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Published:

January 11, 2016
 
Tagged: Adelphi University, Office of Information Technology, Department of Mathematics and Computer Science, AU VU, Publications

Cracking the Google Code

News, General News, Publication


by Bonnie Eissner
 

google_flatv2Stephen Bloch, Ph.D., first applied to work at Google in 2005 when he heard that the company was opening an office in New York City—its first outside of its Mountain View, California, headquarters. An associate professor of computer science at the time, he applied on a whim and landed an interview, but not a job.

Google, though, held on to his résumé and a few years later invited him to interview again. “I spent six hours with techies answering technical questions,” Dr. Bloch said. But the phone call that came two weeks later was a polite rejection.

Last year it happened all over again. Google invited him back. He recalled his reaction: “I’m just going to have a fun day solving other people’s problems.” Two weeks later, on his 50th birthday, Google made an offer.

Today Dr. Bloch is a software engineer at Google’s New York office. As Google has grown, so too has its New York outpost. About 3,000 “Googlers” work in a hulking building in Manhattan’s hip Chelsea neighborhood. (Some Googlers even use scooters to traverse the massive space.) With Dr. Bloch are at least three Adelphi alumni—Joseph DiLallo ’08, Anastassia Drofa ’05 and Nick Miceli ’12.

Despite its growth, Google remains highly selective in its hiring. Last year, it reported hiring about 0.2 percent of its three million or so applicants.

What does it take to become a Googler, and what is it like to be one? Dr. Bloch and the three Adelphi alumni shared their insights with AU VU.

Want to be a Googler? Take these steps.

Be Passionate about Solving Problems

Google wants people, particularly software engineers and designers, who can not only solve problems, but who also thrive on doing so.

Despite what you may have heard, interviewees are not—or at least no longer—fed brain teasers (how to escape from a blender if you’re the height of a nickel, etc.). Instead, said the Adelphi Googlers, you’ll be tested with problems relevant to your area of expertise.

“You’re interviewed by people who have the position you want to go for,” said Nick Miceli ‘12, a software engineer. “You’re being asked questions exactly relevant to what you would do here.” Not that the questions are easy.

“By the end of the day, your brains are leaking out your ears, but it’s fun,” Dr. Bloch said.

Miceli, who—like Anastassia Drofa ‘05 and Joseph DiLallo ‘08—has interviewed numerous aspiring Googlers, offered this guidance, especially for current college students: Go beyond your books and class assignments and try your hand at solving real problems— create an app or game, get a job or an internship, contribute to open source code.

Drofa said she looks for passion in potential colleagues. She listens for clues as to how enthusiastic people are for problem-solving work and why they are excited about being at Google. “A common feature that everyone shares here is being super, super passionate all the time,” she said.

“This is a company full of problem solvers,” Dr. Bloch said. Take, for instance, Google’s Project Loon, an initiative to bring the Internet to remote parts of the globe using weather balloons.

As a senior user experience researcher, Drofa works with software engineers to ensure that the products they dream up are “usable, useful and desirable” to people. She summed up Google’s culture as “anything is possible.” “Your expectations rise really, really high as a result,” she said.

Take Risks and Don’t be Afraid to Fail

Dr. Bloch’s three interviews are a case in point. DiLallo interviewed twice before getting hired as a Google software engineer.

Googlers are expected to adapt quickly to new situations and ideas. “We iterate, we amend, we try again, we do,” Miceli said of the Google development process. Google is constantly reinventing and refining its own code. Miceli noted that “probably over fifty percent of the code I’ve written is no longer in use.”

“You have to be willing to throw something away,” Dr. Bloch said. He said there are even competitions within teams to delete the most lines of old code.

Collaborate and Embrace a Flat World

DiLallo said that interviewers look for people who can take feedback and input from colleagues. Interviewers commonly point out mistakes that candidates make. “Some people get very offended and very defensive and then that’s a very bad sign, especially here where that will happen to you all the time,” DiLallo said.

“Google is a very collaborative place; you never work on anything by yourself,” DiLallo said. “People always review your code. It’s part of Google’s policies.”

DiLallo explained: “Nobody knows everything. Our field is so expansive. I learn things from my peers, and, thankfully every so often I teach things to my peers.”

“You do rely on each other a lot,” Drofa said of Google’s team-based environment.

Rubbing elbows with senior management is par for the course. Google co-founder Sergey Bryn regularly holds fireside chats with employees. Miceli even described teaching an Android coding class to Craig Nevill-Manning, the engineer who started Google’s New York office. “He was so cool,” said Miceli.

DiLallo summed it up this way: “At my previous job, knowledge was power and so people hoarded what they knew and were very hesitant to teach anybody anything… Google is the absolute opposite, where it’s like, ‘If I teach you how to do this, then I don’t have to do it anymore.’ And everyone wants to go work on the next cool idea.”

This piece was published in AU VU Spring 2015 issue.
 
Tagged: Adelphi University, Office of Information Technology, Department of Mathematics and Computer Science, AU VU, Publications