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At Google, Not Quite Partying Like It's 1999

Silicon Valley, concentrated along a 45-mile stretch of Highway 101 from San Jose to San Francisco, is a master of reinvention and for the past 50 years has been at the center of a series of booms and busts.

Whether Google, based in Mountain View, Calif., will lead Silicon Valley to a new era of prosperity is a subject of much interest and debate. The company has picked up many of the top employees of other Internet upstarts of the dot-com era. Spencer Kimball, part of a group of programmers who built one of the first Gnutella file-sharing engines, is an engineer. Megan Smith, formerly of PlanetOut Inc., works in business development. And more than a few refugees from failed broadband provider and portal Excite@Home are scattered throughout the company.

Google employees prepare for a ski lesson during the company's trip. Google paid for skiing, snowboarding, tubing and ice skating for its employees. (Ariana Eunjung Cha -- The Washington Post)

_____Live Discussion_____
Transcript: The Post's Ariana Eunjung Cha discussed her article about the tech sector's cautious revival.
Track Google's Stock: GOOG
_____Google In The News_____
Google to Release TV Search Service (The Washington Post, Jan 25, 2005)
Google, SEC Settle Over Stock Options (The Washington Post, Jan 14, 2005)
Google Wins in Suit Over Ads (The Washington Post, Dec 16, 2004)
Complete Coverage: Google

While it might seem like it's still 1999 on Google's campus -- the "Googleplex" is full of lava lamps and beach balls -- everything is geared toward innovation and efficiency. Happy employees better innovate. Free lunches and dinners are efficient. The doctor and massage therapist on site make sure employees are feeling their best. The snack rooms are stocked with healthy treats such as yogurt, nuts and string cheese; there are some sweets, but employees have to hunt for those as they are often placed in more remote locations. The company also encourages bonding by requiring that workers -- even managers -- share hotel rooms when they travel. In at least one case, a team of Google employees had to stay at hostels during a business trip to Europe.

"We actually like the density. We like people to spend more time with each other and mingle," said Sullivan, the company's human resources director.

Many Google employees remain modest about their personal lives. Many of the longtime Google employees, who got the most stock options, still rent apartments with roommates. Google co-founder Larry Page famously drives a Toyota Prius hybrid.

Jamis MacNiven, owner of Buck's restaurant in Woodside, Calif., where some of Silicon Valley's bigger deals are said to have been sealed, said the company is setting a new example for other high-tech companies.

"It's hard to justify flying around in a jet anymore when a little Google guy, who is probably a millionaire or a billionaire, is driving around in a Prius," MacNiven said.

The corporate get-together in Tahoe was supposed to be a hush-hush affair. Even the resort workers preparing for the event weren't told who was coming, and the signs on the hotels and luggage tags referred only to the event's code name, Snow Jam. But it was hard to miss the identity of the mystery corporation on Thursday and Friday.

The mountain looked like it had been branded as roughly 2,500 of the company's employees arrived, sporting Google logos on their red knit ski caps, T-shirts and bags. The resort remained open to the public, but with Google taking every available hotel room in the area, there were few non-Googlers in the crowd. In addition to room and board, the company paid for skiing, snowboarding, tubing and ice skating.

On a cable car descending from an elevation of 8,000 feet, a half-dozen Googlers met one another for the first time, setting off a conversation that would be repeated over and over throughout the day with only slight variation.

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