Do you know what the most visited website on the planet is? I’ll give you one guess.
If you guessed Google, then you get a virtual Kewpie doll*, complete with really tiny wings!
And you may have wondered in the past, “Can I, a mere mortal, visit Google Headquarters?”
Turns out, the answer is a resounding, “Yes!” So today that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to explore Google’s corporate headquarters, known simply as: The Googleplex.
As you may remember, during my entire journey to the US West Coast and back, I didn’t take a car (nor at any point rent a car) to use. Instead, I relied on carpooling, craigslist rideshare, and public transportation, sometimes with amazing results. So how did I end up getting to the Googleplex in this case?
How Me and 2 Austrians got to Google
The Flow of Travel swept everyone up that week and proceeded to arrange things into win-win-win situations. Turns out, I met a couple Austrians who also wanted to explore Silicon Valley, and they had already rented a car. Problem solved!
And when we arrived at the Googleplex on that gorgeous Thursday afternoon, we weren’t sure what to expect. We certainly had no idea that we were going to have a small run-in with Google security… But I’m getting ahead of myself.
This story starts simply. It starts with a bike.
1. Google Bikes are Everywhere
Besides the Google sign itself, this was the first “Googley” subject we saw on our self-guided Google Headquarters tour. And we soon realized that there were dozens, perhaps hundreds of these bikes all over the Googleplex. And guess what? Anyone in the company can ride these bikes from place to place; and since all of them are shared, you never have to lock them up or worry about losing your bike. With so many of them, I suspect that a bike tends to show up precisely when you need one.
2. Behold, Googley Architecture!
As I’m sure you can imagine, the Googleplex is big. Really big. Over a dozen acres kind of big. The building pictured above is one of the five core Googleplex buildings, and it’s one of the more interesting bits of architecture you can see here.
Oh, and then I found a T-Rex.
3. Meet Google’s Pet & His Flamingo Friends
As a company, Google has an interesting culture. They have a unique spirit, and many people outside the company forget that Google is still relatively young.
Their motto “Don’t be evil.” has been criticized and questioned over the years, but one thing I will never question is their decision to buy a cast of a Tyrannosaurus Rex and place it in their courtyard. Paleontologists need not fear, though. This is only a copy of an original skeleton, so if it gets damaged, no historical records are lost. Below it there were even plastic pink flamingos stuck in the ground, presumably as food for the beast.
Later, I learned that its name is Stan. Isn’t that sweet?
4. Google has a garden? What’s next?
Did you know that Google grows food?
One of the surprising things I noticed at Google campus was the Google Garden. It’s a part of their participation in a program called “The Growing Connection” which is a global network of young food producers. Not far from the Google cafe, various plants were being grown using Earthbox, which is basically a special type of planting box that waters the plants from below instead of above. According to a nearby plaque, the Google Culinary Team incorporates (or has plans to incorporate) all of the food grown at Google into the Google Cafe menu. Very cool.
5. The Legendary Google Cafe
From the Google Garden, I could see the Google Cafe, a magical place where the food is actually provided to the employees free of charge. It’s even color coded for healthiness: green meaning the most healthy, yellow meaning not so healthy, and red meaning “use in moderation or your kidneys will surely fail”… or something like that. (I’m guessing donuts are red, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to see inside the cafe since I didn’t know any Google employees.)
6. See Live Searches Coming In
Around this time, I also entered Google’s main lobby. As you might expect, it had an air of charged energy, and I stayed in there just long enough to look up onto the wall to see a projection of the Google searches that were coming in at that very moment.
The legend of this wall was what attracted me to the Googleplex in the first place. I had looked forward to this moment for weeks. I would finally get to see some of the inbound searches being typed into Google from all over the world. Quickly, I looked up, reading small words projected onto a white wall. I thought about how these searches had been typed just fractions of a second ago… from all over the world.
Perhaps a half dozen searches were displayed at once onto the wall. Most of them were misspelled, and I remember one of them referencing “hot dogs”.
Alright. So people weren’t searching for the answer to life, the universe, and everything… but that was okay. I had done it. I had seen the live search wall, and that in and of itself was gratifying. (Word. I’m a huge geek, aren’t I?)
Of course, I wasn’t seeing everything. Google processes over one billion search requests every day, so if they were to project all the global incoming searches each second, it would probably fill the side of an entire building. So with that in mind, I’d guess that this was less than 1% of incoming searches.
7. Enter Google’s Sculpture Garden
Another surprise on the Googleplex (and the last key sight you shouldn’t miss there) were a number of stone busts of important figures. One such figure was Sylvia A. Earle (pictured above).
If you’re not familiar with her, she’s a well-known oceanographer who has led over 60 expeditions worldwide. Her list of accomplishments is pretty impressive. From 1990 to 1992, she was chief scientist at NOAA; and she was named Time magazine’s first “Hero for the Planet” in 1998. And, perhaps not surprisingly, she was instrumental in adding the ability to display oceans in version 5 of Google Earth.
A Run-in with Security
Before we left, we even got to meet a Google security guy. He was checking on us to see if we were having trouble finding our car, but we knew our car was just ahead. As you can see from the picture, he was riding a pretty snazzy 3-wheeled scooter. I asked him if I could take a picture of him, and he agreed. Thanks, Google guy!
The Googleplex is a cool place to visit, but remember that Google is a publicly traded corporation. So if you’re a visitor, don’t expect free food or a tour unless you have a friend who works there. (I didn’t, but it’s easy enough to walk around and explore for yourself as long as you don’t go into any of the buildings besides the lobby.)
However, even without a Google friend there are plenty of things to see and plenty of photo opportunities. The live search in the lobby and the T-Rex stand out the most for me; and I feel lucky to have visited the headquarters of the world’s most visited website on the planet (not to mention my favorite search engine). Definitely recommended if you’re a geek like me.
But, that wasn’t all we saw that day. The Intel HQ and the Intel Museum is next in this series, so stay tuned and don’t forget to subscribe.
Next: Change Your Perspective on Tech History Forever
Next, I made a brief visit to Intel’s headquarters, only to discover that they have an awesome free museum right on campus. Inside, we learned firsthand the amazing processes used to create modern chips, saw original artifacts from technology history face to face, and even met an Intel robot!
*The Kewpie doll in question is completely imaginary intended to be enjoyed solely in your mind. Offer void where prohibited. Not valid in the State of Utah. No motorcycles after 3PM.