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Googleplex Image Gallery

Google employees having a ball in their office space.  See more Googleplex pictures.

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How the Googleplex Works

In Mountain View, Calif., just a few miles south of the San Francisco Bay, there's a complex of buildings that serves as the headquarters for one of the most powerful companies in the technology industry. It's the home of Google, the Internet search engine giant. By some accounts, the Google campus is what you'd get if you combined a typical high-tech Internet company's headquarters with an intellectual think tank and a heaping helping of Willy Wonka's chocolate factory.

Google calls its campus the Googleplex, which combines the words Google and complex. It's also a play on the world googolplex. A googolplex is an enormous number, but let's start smaller with just a googol. A googol is 10100 -- a one followed by 100 zeroes. But a googolplex is 10 to the power of googol. So 10googol is a 1 followed by a googol of zeroes.

Google purchased the grounds of the main campus­ from a technology company called Silicon Graphics (SGI). Silicon Graphics created the digital dinosaurs in the film "Jurassic Park." A statue of a Tyrannosaurus Rex stands guard over the campus, perhaps as a nod to the area's previous inhabitants.

An architect named Clive Wilkinson of Clive Wilkinson Architects designed the workspaces in the Googleplex. Wilkinson's designs are famous for being inventive and whimsical. At the Googleplex, Wilkinson concentrated on creating buildings that fostered teamwork and creativity.

­As of 2008, Google employs more than 19,000 people [source: Google Finance]. Google has offices in several countries, so not all of those employees get to take advantage of the Googleplex -- only 8,000 or so work out of Mountain View. The campus now has more than 2 million square feet of office space. The acquisition of a 42-acre campus adjacent to the Googleplex will add another 1 million square feet soon [source: Helft].

­­While the Googleplex doesn't actually have rivers of chocolate or gangs of Oompa Loompas wandering the campus, it does feature many amenities and perks that can entice potential employees to apply for a job. Feeling hungry? Pop into a cafeteria for a free meal. Need to work off all that complimentary snack food that's within arm's reach? Head over to the gym and hit the treadmill for half an hour. You can find it all at the Googleplex -- there's no need to leave the campus.

What are the buildings and grounds like at the Googleplex? Keep reading to find out.

Some of Google's buildings have geeky names, like Building Pi.

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Googleplex Facilities

With more than 20 buildings as part of its Mountain View headquarters, finding your way around the Googleplex can be a little intimidating. Many of the employees at Google started work straight out of college. Their young age adds to the impression that you're on a college campus. The heart of the campus is a group of four buildings: Buildings 40 through 43.

As soon as you walk into a Google lobby, you know you're not in a typical office environment. Lava lamps provide a groovy vibe and in some lobbies a piano waits for a skilled musician. Most lobbies have a large computer screen that displays search terms in real time as people around the world use Google to find search results. Google filters the stream of terms so that offensive searches don't pop up at embarrassing moments.

Other interesting decorations you can find in the Google offices range from enormous whiteboards filled with brilliant ideas and irreverent jokes to a replica of SpaceShipOne. There are even interesting items in the hallways. Google advocates a green-conscious and healthy lifestyle among its employees, so it's not unusual to see bicycles parked in Google buildings.

The offices don't resemble a typical corporate environment. Google arranges the workstations so that groups of three to four employees who work together sit in the same area. During the design phase, architect Clive Wilkinson faced a challenging problem: how do you group people together and still give them an environment in which they can concentrate on work without distractions? And how do you do it without turning Google into a labyrinth of cubicles?

Wilkinson decided to use glass walls to divide the space into clusters. This design cuts down on much of the ambient noise inside the office. It also allows sunlight to filter in through the entire office. Each glass enclosure has a tent-like roof made of acrylic-coated polyester which contains the room's lighting and sprinkler systems.

Google executives want employees to be able to bounce ideas off each other. It's the c­ompany's hope that by encouraging interaction, workers will have greater job satisfaction and may even create the next big Google product. Employees can personalize their workstations as much as they like, and even bring dogs (but not cats) to work if they want to.

Google's workspaces may be appealing, but that's just scratching the surface of the perks at the Googleplex. Some of the perks can lead to undesirable consequences. There's a dreaded condition called the Google 15 that many new employees grapple with when they first start at the company. Find out more about this threat and its cause in the next section.

­

Employees can enjoy organic food and beverages, including fresh coconut milk, at Google cafeterias.

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Google Food for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner

One of the most often cited perks of working at Google is the food. Google feeds its employees well. If you work at the Googleplex, you can eat breakfast, lunch and dinner free of charge. There are several cafés located throughout the campus, and employees can eat at any of them. The main café is Charlie's Place. The café takes its name from Google's first lead chef, Charlie Ayers. Before creating meals for Googlers, Ayers was the chef for the Grateful Dead.

Although Ayers left Google in 2005, the café still bears his name. The café has several stations, each offering different kinds of cuisine. Options range from vegetarian dishes to sushi to ethnic foods from around the world. Google's culture promotes the use of fresh, organic foods and healthy meals. But when everything is free and you can eat whenever you want, it's easy to go overboard. That's where the Google 15 comes in. It refers to the 15 pounds many new Google employees put on once they start taking advantage of all the meals and snacks.

Other cafés at the Googleplex include the Pacific Café, Charleston Café, Café 150 and the appropriately named No Name Café. Each offers employees several choices for every meal. Google serves up more than 200 recipes in these cafés every day [source: Wu].

Too tired to walk to the cafeteria? Hop on one of the electric scooters parked around campus.

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What if you feel your stomach growling in the middle of the afternoon, but don't want to trek out to a cafeteria? Google thought of that, too. It's just a short walk to the nearest snack room -- most buildings have them. The snack rooms have candy, granola, chocolate-coated pretzels, juices, coffees and other goodies. All of it is free to employees. Google even brings some of these bins on the road -- at the 2008 Google I/O event at the Moscone Center in San Francisco, Calif., Google provided bins filled with snacks to attendees.

Google doesn't discuss how much it spends on its food budget, but that doesn't stop people from taking a stab at it. Blogger Vasanth Sridharan made one such attempt in April, 2008. He made some educated guesses regarding the number of employees at the Googleplex, the number of meals they eat per day and the amount of money Google would have to spend per employee per day. He came up with a food budget of more than $72 million per year. But then, that's just a guess [source: Sridharan].

Google provides employees with unusual workspaces and tons of food. But in the words of countless television commercials, "that's not all!" Want to learn more about the way you can pamper yourself if you're a Google employee? Take a gander at the next section.

A Google employee gets a free haircut on site. 

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Google Employee Perks

Many tech industry companies in Silicon Valley offer a range of perks and benefits to attract and keep employees. Several offer on-site benefits, which have the added bonus of keeping the employee workforce in the office more often. Give employees enough reasons to stick around and you'll likely see productivity go up. Why head home when everything you need is at work?

With that in mind, here's a short list of the perks Google employees get when they sign on at the Googleplex:

  • If an employee's bangs are getting in the way during a furious coding session, he or she can schedule an on-site haircut free of charge.
  • To work off all those calories, employees can head over to a gym filled with equipment. For the aquatically-inclined, Google also provides swim-in-place swimming pools. These pools are narrow and not very long. Electric water pumps provide a strong current that flows in one direction. Employees swim against the current, staying in place within these small pools. Lifeguards are on duty to keep employees safe.
  • Employees can play against each other in a quick game of ping pong, billiards or foosball -- you can find game tables in several of the buildings on campus. There are also video games for employees who prefer to let their thumbs do all the work.

Google employees can take a break and play a quick game of pool or foosball.

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  • If an employee spills some of that fancy juice on his or her clothes, all is not lost. Google has laundry facilities available to employees on site. The company even offers dry cleaning services. It's not unusual for Google employees to bring clothes in over the weekend to do laundry at the Googleplex.
  • Google's healthcare plan includes on-site medical staff. If an employee suffers an injury or feels ill while at work, he or she can make an appointment with a doctor at the Googleplex.
  • Even with all the benefits and perks at the Googleplex, work can become stressful. Fortunately for Google employees, they can take advantage of a subsidized massage program. For a small fee, the employee can receive a massage from a licensed therapist in a private room. In fact, Google's massage rooms and bathrooms are some of the only areas in the Googleplex that have opaque walls.
  • Another famous benefit of working at Google is the 20 percent time program. Google allows its employees to use up to 20 percent of their work week at Google to pursue special projects. That means for every standard work week, employees can take a full day to work on a project unrelated to their normal workload. Google claims that many of their products in Google Labs started out as pet projects in the 20 percent time program.

Many of Google's perks appeal to young people fresh out of college. The Googleplex provides a gentle transition from the academic world into the corporate environment. But what about employees who have moved beyond the campus lifestyle? Not all of their benefits have fared as well.

In 2008, one of Google's perks changed dramatically. The change impacts hundreds of Google employees, and many of them aren't happy about it. What change in policy could make some Google employees break down in tears? To find out, go to the next section.

A typical building lobby at the Googleplex.

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Google Benefits and Day Care

Rumors of a Google day care facility sprung up in 2004. A short time later, Google announced a program with the Children's Creative Learning Centers, Inc (CCLC). A school 2 miles away from the Googleplex hosted the service. In true Google fashion, the company called the day care program the Kinderplex.

The CCLC oversees several day care programs and follows a play-based child care philosophy. The children in the Kinderplex program engaged in various play activities. They also learned yoga as part of an exercise program.

The service was never free, but Google subsidized it so that more Google employees could take advantage of the program. Part of the subsidy went toward meals: Kids received free breakfast, lunch and snacks at the center. Google leveraged the Kinderplex as part of its benefits program when recruiting prospective employees.

A year after opening the Kinderplex, Google established a second program called the Woods. Unlike the Kinderplex, Google ran the Woods program itself. The Woods took a different approach to caring for children than the Kinderplex. It was also more expensive to maintain.

In 2008, Google decided to change its day care service to make the entire program more like the Woods. The new program will cost employees more than twice as much as the old one. According to several reports, some Google employees were moved to tears at the announcement. Why the sudden hike in price?

One reason is due to the style of learning. While the Kinderplex focused on play-based learning, the new child care program follows the Reggio Emilia philosophy. Founded by Loris Malaguzzi, this approach depends upon each individual child. As the child begins to show interests in particular activities or subjects, the teacher adjusts the program to give the child more access to those things. Communication and interaction are important, as are aesthetic concerns like the physical surroundings and artwork in the room.

Class sizes are small and the teachers have relatively high salaries. The wait list to get into Google's day care program is hundreds of names long. Google is now charging parents to stay on the waiting list. Coupled with the new higher prices for day care, the list's length has decreased over time. Some people within Google argue that the only people who can afford in-house day care now are top level executives.

Discussions regarding the day care situation are likely to continue. Google's programs usually receive an equal mixture of praise and awe. The day care program is a rare example of an internal Google initiative that draws criticism.

Most of the Googleplex's facilities and programs continue to attract potential employees. While Google may have hit a speed bump in the day care program, other initiatives still garner positive attention. The Googleplex and its programs help put Google at the top of Fortune magazine's 100 Best Companies to Work For list in 2008 [source: Fortune]. There's no shortage of people wanting to join Google's ranks. And once they get there, they might discover that they don't want to leave. That's just how Google likes it.

To learn more about Google and related topics, take a look at the links on the next page.

Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks ArticlesMore Great LinksSources
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  • Brainy-Child.com. "Reggio Emilia Approach." (July 24, 2008) http://www.brainy-child.com/article/reggioemilia.html
  • Chang, Jade. "Behind the Glass Curtain." MetropolisMag. June 19, 2006. ( July 22, 2008) http://www.metropolismag.com/cda/story.php?artid=2123
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