Correction to This Article
An Oct. 21 Business article about Google Inc. incorrectly said that the company had tried three ways to make use of its acquisition of a radio advertising company. Google tried three ways to make its magazine and newspaper advertising efforts work.

Building a 'Googley' Workforce

Google's office campus in Mountain View, Calif., has all sorts of perks for employees. That means finding a pickup volleyball game.
Google's office campus in Mountain View, Calif., has all sorts of perks for employees. That means finding a pickup volleyball game. (By Justin Sullivan -- Getty Images)

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By Sara Kehaulani Goo
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 21, 2006

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. -- To understand the corporate culture at Google Inc., take a look at the toilets.

Every bathroom stall on the company campus holds a Japanese high-tech commode with a heated seat. If a flush is not enough, a wireless button on the door activates a bidet and drying.

Yet even while they are being pampered with high-tech toiletry, Google employees are encouraged to make good use of their downtime: A flier tacked inside each stall bears the title, "Testing on the Toilet, Testing code that uses databases." It features a geek quiz that changes every few weeks and asks technical questions about testing programming code for bugs.

The toilets reflect Google's general philosophy of work: Generous, quirky perks keep employees happy and thinking in unconventional ways, helping Google innovate as it rapidly expands into new lines of business.

Maintaining Google's culture of innovation is a hot internal topic as the Internet search king turns eight this fall and marches around the world, opening new offices in such cities as Beijing, Zurich and Bangalore. In the past three years, Google's workforce has more than tripled in size, to 9,000 employees, and the company has launched a new product nearly every week, including some widely regarded as flops. When its own offerings don't catch on, Google isn't shy about snapping up the competition, as it did this month when it agreed to acquire online video-sharing site YouTube for $1.65 billion in stock.

While Google places a premium on success, it appears to shrug off failure. The resulting culture of fearlessness permeates the 24-hour Googleplex, a collection of interconnected low-rise buildings that look more like some new-age college campus than a corporate office complex. The colorful, glass-encased offices feature upscale trappings -- free meals three times a day; free use of an outdoor wave pool, indoor gym and large child care facility; private shuttle bus service to and from San Francisco and other residential areas -- that are the envy of workers all over Silicon Valley.

Google employees are encouraged to propose wild, ambitious ideas often. Supervisors assign small teams to see if the ideas work. Nearly everyone at Google carries a generic job title, such as "product manager." All engineers are allotted 20 percent of their time to work on their own ideas. Many of the personal projects yield public offerings, such as the social networking Web site Orkut and Google News, a collection of headlines and news links.

The corporate counterculture explains a lot about why the search company rolls out such a wide range of products in its self-proclaimed mission to organize the world's information. Despite objections by publishers and authors, Google is attempting to copy every book ever published and make snippets available online. It plans to launch a free wireless Internet service in San Francisco. It also hopes to shake up the advertising world by using the Internet to sell ads in magazines, newspapers and on radio.

Philip Remek, an analyst who follows Google for Guzman and Co., sees the many initiatives as a series of lottery cards.

"A lot of them aren't going to work," Remek said. "Maybe there will be a few that take off spectacularly. And maybe they're smart enough to realize no one is smart enough to tell which lottery card is the winner five years out."

While Google often launches products before they are ready for prime time, even the premature ones instill fear in competitors, who know that the search leader has the patience and money -- a market value of about $140 billion and $2.69 billion in quarterly revenue -- to keep trying.

That's also a message Google sends employees.


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© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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