Sunday, November 05, 2006

Google London Office Visit

I was quite excited to hear about opportunity to visit a Google engineering office to meet fellow students and Googlers[*]. Thus immediately I started thinking which office I would like to visit. Trondheim seemed (and still seems) like a very nice destination. It is relatively close to my current home (Currently I study in Denmark, Aalborg). I like the beautiful Norwegian scenery and the fact that Google there is doing research projects which might be actually related to my own university project. But the travel costs turned out to be prohibitively high. So, London. A big engineering office, lots of fellow students participating, and Chris DiBona himself coming here. I bought tickets without giving a second thought.

I flew there a day before Google event. I've never been before in London, so the city overwhelmed me. Sadly, I had only half of day on Thursday to actually explore it. Hopefully soon I will return here to spend at least a week.

On Friday it was time for the Google visit. The provided directions were very clear and I found myself in the front of a big office building near Victoria Station. Must be pretty expensive to rent. Although I came some 10 minutes early, most of the students were already there. Couple of things attracted our attention in the reception: there is a live running Google search log projected on one wall and on another Google Earth was zooming in and out of famous landmarks. Sadly, they have a "no-photo" policy which I was unlucky enough to familiarize with by trying.

At 12:00 came Zaheda Bhorat, took us to the conference room where we had some small talk and free food. Exactly what a travelling student needs! Then Chris joined us and we had a round of introductions, followed by round of lightning presentations by students. There were two major types of talks. First, there were talks that discussed technical side of the project, architecture and implementation details. On the other hand there were talks which discussed organizational, communicational aspects, gained experiences and just briefly skimmed over the technical side of the projects. Yet they all had one thing in common - that the presenters were passionate about their projects and were happy to do what they did.

Next we had a round table discussion on variety of topics. First of all, how could Summer of Code be improved. This year was the second year for this program, so a lot of things were already sorted out, but on the other hand the program is still relatively young. The outcome of the discussion is here. During the general discussion I was able to finally get answer to the question - why Google created this program in the first place? If Google wants some of the open source projects have more manpower, then why not just directly hire experienced developers? On the other hand, if Google wants to hire new hackers, then, to quote Chris, there are more effective ways to spend 3 million US dollars. And the correct answer is that one of the Google founders wanted to give CS students opportunity to earn some cash during summer in a way that does not involve flipping burgers. Moreover, it is useful for both the student and community. Fair enough. Of course, some recruitment does happen as a side effect of the program.

Later we were joined by a local Googler which answered questions about what is it like to work for Google. It goes without saying that you get to work on truly world-class projects and they try to create environment so you do not want go home. And we could see afterwards if the latter is true, as we had an office tour. No expense is spared and attention to the detail and wishes of employees is everywhere. A big rest lounge with armchairs, big soft toys to rest on, a mic and loudspeakers - I sincerely hope that they have banned singing for people who can't. A couple of small bars stocked with fruits and soft drinks. A balcony where you can have BBQ in summer. A fridge of beer and all major gaming consoles. A canteen where all menus are so elaborately marked, so that if you are vegan on Tuesdays and do not eat salad on Thursdays, you can immediately find what's here for you today. A pool table which says "Bilijardai" on its side in Lithuanian - this one I liked the most. Virtually all walls are covered with whiteboards, I guess they rarely run out of space to discuss their ideas for world domination. However, the developers do not have offices with a door that closes, so there is still some room for improvement.

After the office tour we were given gifts: sets of T-shirt, notepad, mouse pad, pen etc. But the best thing in there was this magnetic constructor toy.

Then it was time to thank the hosts and part. Some of the students, me included, decided to go out try some English beer in the pubs. Which we did, and had a lot of fun. Later somebody got a poster inviting to a "Greater London Linux User Group emergency pub meeting with Jon 'maddog' Hall" at the same day. Emergency is an emergency, so we didn't think for long about it. More beer was consumed and many new interesting people were met. At around midnight I left, because I didn't want to miss my flight early next morning.

To conclude everything, the visit did not exceed my expectations - but only because they were very high in the first place. I was amazed at how enthusiastic the students were about their projects, how much effort was put into running the SoC program by Googlers and how nicely they had arranged our visit. Keep up the good work!

Here are a few pictures of mine of the whole evening. And more photos from the GLLUG meeting are there. UPDATE: couple of new photos: maddog at GLLUG meeting by Uros Trebec and us at Google by Zaheda.

[*] - Dammit, it sounds like a sentence from some corporate blog written by marketing.

Friday, November 03, 2006


Hello, world. This blog is going to be a place where I will document my Summer of Code participation experiences. The main reason is that I want to have a list of things to consider next time I write an application and because, hopefully, that might be useful for somebody else too.

First of all I plan to write a report about Google London office visit for GSoCers. Then I will write down things, tips, advice, good examples, bad examples I've seen and learned during application submitting process and during the course of project. And later, well, I don't have any further plans, so don't expect frequent (or any) updates afterwards. I think that it is much better to have good, even if old and little, content, than to write updates regularly.

For a year already I have a blog in Lithuanian, so if you're fluent in this language, want to learn some Danish and are interested in incoherent ramblings about day-to-day student's life in Denmark, please head straight over there.

Last but not least, since I'm not a native English speaker, all corrections of style, grammar and so on, are very welcome by those who know better.