My internship at Google is 2 years away. 1 year from now. 6 months left. Only 3. One month from now. Next Monday. Tomorrow. This is my first week. It’s been a month. I just had my midpoint. I have one month left. I leave next Thursday. Today is my last day. I interned at Google for three months last summer.
Phew, time flies. Scary. Yet I’m happy. My engineering internship at Google in London has gone from an impossibility, to a possibility; to a distant reality, to a near one; to an actuality and now a memory. I’ve had enough experiences over the last three months to fill a lifetime and I’ll try to recollect a few of those in the next few paragraphs.
Disclaimer: All opinions expressed below are my own.
Let’s begin at the beginning. How did I end up at Google? Arguably, this is the hardest part. From what I’ve heard, Google receives around three million applications each year. Of those three million, around $.5$ percent end up accepting an offer for what is, for many, their dream job.
So how did I become one of those half a percent? My case is a little special and is what usually makes people “wow” the most about my Google story. The thing is, I never actually applied to Google myself. I was recruited in high school. It still blows my mind when I think of it now, but what happened is that one morning two years ago, in my final year of high school, as my 17-year-old self was eating a sandwich and contemplating on the more fundamental questions of life (watching cat videos), I received an email from a talent sourcer at Google Dublin:
There I was, a high school kid in the mountains of Austria, getting an email titled “Google Engineering Horizons”. Damn. Disney stuff.
After that email, I spent the whole summer before starting uni studying up on algorithms, data structures and lots of things I only would have formally learnt at least one year later in uni. I did various courses on algorithms and data structures on Coursera (Princeton Algorithms I and II) and MIT Open Courseware (undergraduate and graduate level) and simply practiced interview questions for about three to four months, every day, from morning till night. I then had three phone interviews around November, which I passed.
When you get through the interviews for a Google internship, you are put into the “host matching pool”. At this stage, engineers or managers with projects in mind can pick candidates out of this pool and evaluate them for their project. This process can take a week or, as in my case, can take 3 months or longer. It really depends. For me, it was especially hard because, well, I was two months into uni at that point and had only little work experience (and, which was especially funny, no grades yet!). I interviewed with two other teams at Google (clang in Munich and WebRTC in Stockholm) before getting an offer from the third team, gTech in London, where I just spent three months. The former two both picked candidates with more experience.
I ultimately received and accepted my offer in mid February. At first, I was very relieved that I had found a project (finally). Then, I just went batshit crazy about doing an internship at the most prestigious software company on the planet.
Weeks 1 - 2: Arriving at Google
My internship started on the 22nd of August and was to last until the 18th of November. This, in itself, proved to be one of the bigger quirks of my internship. Most summer placements start around mid June or beginning of July and end around beginning or end of September, since that is when most people around the world have their summer vacation (usually three months). Unfortunately, German universities prefer to have exams last until mid August and then only give you two months of vacation. This basically messes with every German student aspiring to do internships at international tech companies since even if you can start in August (like myself), you arrive after all the intern activities are over, missing out on lots of the hyped Google-sponsored activities.
Either way, I arrived at one of Google’s four London offices on Monday, August 22nd for my induction. This was basically a morning and afternoon of introduction to life at Google, where me and other new employees (including one other intern starting late like me) were told all the legal and security stuff, guided through forms (we could even set up bank accounts with a representative from Barclays on the spot), informed about all the exciting benefits of working at Google (which are mostly relevant for full-timers) and told what we could and couldn’t tell our Grandmother about our jobs. At the end of the day, I was officially a “Noogler” and picked up by my “buddy”, an engineer in a team sitting next to mine who had been an intern himself and was thus chosen to hold my hand on the rocky road to Googliness.
On my second day, I was shown my desk and introduced to my team, including my manager. I was excited and obviously nervous about the months ahead, especially since the project I was to work on was quite opposite to my experience and expertise. I would later learn that very many, if not most, interns got projects that don’t necessarily match their skill set. Already here I noticed that one of the most essential skills at Google is to be flexible, open-minded and have strong fundamentals in CS (algorithms/engineering) to be able to fit a variety of costumes in the various teams at Google. As such, the first two weeks of my internship were mostly filled with learning, learning and learning. I did online courses, read books and asked questions, trying to make the most of the fact that the people immediately around me, one floor up or down from mine, or even in a different office around the world, are probably the best-fit human beings to sit in their chair.
Weeks 3 - 6: Settling In
After the first two weeks, I had gone through the fundamentals of the technologies I needed for my project, had my work flows set up, knew what people to ask what questions and could thus really start working on my project and deliver some prototypes.
By that time, I was already quite heavily immersed in the Google bubble. As I’m writing this, Google has more than 60,000 employees in 70 offices located in more than 40 countries around the world – from Mountain View to New York to London to Stockholm to Haifa to Delhi to Singapore and all the way in Sydney. Just in terms of its employees, Google is already twice as “populous” as the city I grew up in, which is why I always compared Google to a big, distributed city. And just like the city I grew up in had a rich culture (clicking link not advised), also Google has a very rich and strong corporate culture. The difference is that the people sharing this culture are not from one place, but from every country around the world. One of the terms that rings strongest with employees at Google is “Googliness” and being “Googley”. Googliness is synonym with many things, depending on the context, but basically means following Google’s motto “don’t be evil”.
This simple message of trust is the basis of many benefits and perks at Google. For example, there’s an internal store for workstations, laptops, monitors, phones and Google merchandise. The only difference to a regular store is that almost everything in that store is free. That fits in with the free breakfast, lunch and dinner everyday, along with your second breakfast and third lunch in-between if you’re on an anti-diet. These things are free, but based on the idea that you’ll be “Googley” and not buy a $10,000 workstation if you don’t need one, get a new Macbook to take it home rather than work on it, or invite your friends over for free lunch every day. Next to not abusing benefits, Googliness also stands for togetherness, inclusion and diversity. It’s Googley to hang out together on Friday for TGIF (Thank Google it’s Friday), which is a get-together event with pizza and music every Friday. It’s Googley to stand up for diversity and inclusion, such as protesting against binary gendering on toilets (Google Sydney now no longer has binary, male/female, toilets, but only one kind for all males, females and droids). If there’s one thing Google really manages to do well, it’s keeping this strong, slightly mythical spirit going that attracts so many people and also helps keep the distributed city closer together.
Going back to my internship, this first half of my internship concluded with me continuing to work on my project and actually getting large parts of it finished in half the time. This allowed me to work on two more projects in the latter part of my internship, including open sourcing one of my side projects under an official Google GitHub organization as well as working on chatbots in Go using Allo’s Natural Language Processing engine in a related engineering team.
In these weeks, I thankfully got to learn more technologies and explore larger parts of Google’s engineering infrastructure. One thing that allowed me to learn so many things, including 5 programming languages and around 15 technologies (AngularJs, AppEngine, Protobuf etc.), is Google’s gigantic internal documentation and database of tutorials. Any topic you want to learn about, from Python to Google’s data center infrastructure, there’s an article on it internally and some tutorial code to step you through setting things up and getting from 0 to 99 as fast as possible. For anyone needing to go from nothing to being super productive, like me, this is gold.
Next to learning new technologies, my time at Google was also very much about learning “how to people” effectively. I got to meet so many fascinating, fascinating human beings from very exciting parts of Google like DeepMind, Android and Chrome who I became close friends with or just had some exciting conversations with. I’m very thankful my more experienced teammates pushed me to be proactive and get to know people. Even though Google is very special and different in many aspects compared to other companies, the value of contacts is still quite high at Google, as it is everywhere else.
Weeks 6 - 8: Midpoint
Internships at Google are usually three months, like mine, but can be as long as six months. At the middle of your internship is the midpoint evaluation. This is a form you and your host (manager/team lead) have to fill out to evaluate your performance so far and to set goals for the latter half of the internship. My feedback was thankfully very good (“exceeds expectations”), so I was happy to be on track.
One negative thing mentioned in my midpoint review was my work/life balance. By that time, I had fully settled into my Google life, which was, well quite extreme. Google, at least in engineering organizations, has no working hours. You can come any time you want and leave any time, as long as you get your typical eight hours in but most importantly, as long as you get your work done on time. For most people, this means coming to work some time between 9 and 11 AM (breakfast ends at 10 AM) and leaving between 5 and 8 PM (dinner starts at 6:30 PM). My schedule was a little different: I came to work between 9 and 10 AM and left between 12 and 2 AM. Yes, you read that right. I spent a lot of time in the office, to the extent that my co-workers asked me if I lived there.
I didn’t work the entire typical 14-16 hours of course. I’d usually work around 8-10 hours on my project and then just worked on personal projects, prepared for interviews or read books the rest of the time. It’s just that instead of going home, I stayed in the office. This had several reasons. For one, my flat was around 45 minutes away from the office, had no/bad WiFi, was ridiculously run down, had three annoying room-mates and if you wanted to get food or something to drink, you actually had to buy it yourself! Compared to the Google office, I had few reasons to go home, which is why I didn’t.
Let me explain more what the Google office is like and why I spent so much time there. You can imagine Google offices as playgrounds inside five star hotels. There is free food, soda and coffee, a gym and an infinity of quirky, fun chillout areas where you can lie upside down hacking away on your laptop. The office I stayed had a spaceship theme and one particular room called “the cog”:
People would come here during the day to work, take a nap or meditate and I mostly did the first.
After my midpoint, I started transitioning into the other team of full-time engineers with whom I worked on chatbots for the latter half of my internship, as my main project was nearly done.
Weeks 8 - 11: Becoming Useful
The last month of my internship was nothing exceptional anymore, simply because I had gotten used to all the good stuff at Google. I was spending even more time in the office, working on three projects in parallel during the day and practicing for interviews in the evening, as I was interviewing with Facebook, Microsoft and some other companies for next summer, just to keep my options open.
In this time, I also got to visit some of Google’s other offices in London. Currently, there are four separate offices: Belgrave (“Bel”), 123 Buckingham Palace Road (“123”), Central Saint Giles (“CSG”) and King’s Cross at 6 St. Pancras Square (“6PS”).
Belgrave, where I worked, was, until November, the main engineering office in London. At the start of November all engineering teams in Belgrave moved to 6PS, leaving only the sales (Google for Work) teams and some mixed sales/engineering teams (like mine) behind. 6PS is now Google’s largest office in London, where some day, apparently, all of Google London will be located. It’s a massive but very cool office with a fantastic view of London from the top floor. It is also where Google DeepMind, Alphabet’s AI powerhouse, is stationed. Since I’m personally very involved in machine learning and had some contacts at DeepMind, I went there a few times to meet with some of DeepMind’s minds.
CSG is the sales office and also the quirkiest of Google’s London offices. It has a lot of cool hangout areas and is also the only office that, at least from what I saw, has a higher female than non-female population.
Week 12: The Final Stretch
As much as I didn’t want it to happen, my last week did come. While you would imagine it as the most hectic part of my internship, it really was the most relaxed one, to be honest. Most of my work was done or going through some final (code) reviews, so I thankfully didn’t have as much on my plate as the weeks before.
The one thing that was left was my presentation, where I had to show my team what I had been able to accomplish in the last three months. As this wasn’t just the 8 people in the London branch of my team, but our entire cross-European organization (around 50 people) and our director (the fourth highest rank at Google, after CEO, SVP and VP), this was quite a big deal. I spent around three days on my presentation, mainly because I did it in LaTeX instead of PowerPoint, as any sane person would in about one tenth of the time. The slides unfortunately include some confidential information, so I can’t put them here. Either way, the presentation went very well and I managed to impress every one with my work, which was sweet.
My last few days at Google mainly involved saying goodbye to the friends I had made, getting in the free hour-long massage I had been refusing the last three months, spending some last few quality hours in my beloved, cozy office and, on a more serious note, having some last meetings with my reviewers to discuss my feedback. Overall, I’m happy to say that I got excellent feedback from my reviewers for having shown flexibility, technical ability and being a team player. Fortunately, I also got some pointers on where I could improve (I was more interested in these points). For example, my manager mentioned that I should work on asking more questions. This was mainly because in the beginning, I had been a little shy to ask questions thinking I was expected to know everything. I did improve on this a lot towards the end of my internship but I nevertheless appreciated the advice to work more on this. My manager explained that it’s often the smartest, most senior people who ask the stupidest questions. This makes a lot more sense to me now. Another core point all my reviewers mentioned was my continued trouble with getting a proper work/life balance. This wasn’t really relevant for my performance on the internship, but more personal advice. I promised to do my best to work on it (no pun intended).
And that was it, my internship was over. I was sad about leaving my team and the Google life, but very happy that all the late nights and early mornings paid off in form of a very good final review that would hopefully open more doors at Google for the future. On my last day, my team got me some cake and gave me some very sweet farewell gifts, such as the potato below.
What now? What happened next? As I’m writing this, it’s too early to know. My internship feedback is being processed by HR to evaluate how well I was able to demonstrate my technical abilities, how well I fit the Google culture and how much of an impact I was able to have. The last part, impact, is the most essential thing Google interns strive for. No matter how amazing your project is, if no one uses it, your impact at Google is poor and your performance will suffer. The challenge is to build something that has value to your team and Google as whole. It’ll be exciting to see what my reviewers thought of me in that respect and whether I’ll be given the chance to come back to Google next summer. In the meantime, I’m starting another internship at Bloomberg R&D in London, interviewing with Facebook and refreshing my emails every 12 seconds to hear back from my Google recruiter.
No matter what happens next, I want to say thank you to everyone at Google who made the last three months some of the most exciting of my life. See you soon.
Thanks everyone for the amazing response! It was cool to see a lively discussion on my post on HackerNews. Also, I’ve decided to join Facebook next summer. See you there!