Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. This seems like a daunting task… like a weekend stroll around the universe.
But for the company that created Google Street View, Google Earth, Google Moon and Google Mars it appears that not even the sky is the limit when it comes to their mission statement. It would take a very tall building to hear even a small portion of their elevator pitch.
For such an unusual company you would expect their headquarters to be nothing short of amazing...AND amazing it is.
At Google Canada’s Kitchener H.Q. they boast a recreational games room, a one story slide you can elect to take as a shortcut to bypass the staircase, a private patio deck to relax when the going gets hectic, an employee massage program (to release perhaps some of the more deeply rooted brilliant ideas) and chef prepared meals to titillate the palate and nourish the grey matter.
Working for the world's biggest search engine is a dream come true for those fortunate enough to qualify and only a dream to those that don’t. But it’s not all fun and games. Changing the way the world does things involves a lot of work. Nowhere is corporate culture and team work seemingly more important than at a Google site.
When you visit Google you don’t simply saunter through the door and you’re in. You are politely (well, almost politely) flagged at the second story reception, where you must explain WHY you’re there. (Don’t make the mistake of saying you’re from YAHOO or BING.)
Given all that is created at this small town Canadian office it wasn’t a surprise that security was tight at this official opening.
When you pull up in front of the Lang’s Tannery technology Hub, the first thing that catches your attention is the world’s most (recently) famous trade mark and brand name shining down on you. You get a sense that you might be in the wrong city.
Across the street and up the hike is the U of W’s School of Pharmacy. Around the corner on King Street are the Kaufman lofts, an earlier development which saw a Kitchener manufacturing icon tastefully transitioned into trendy condominiums.
But back at 151 Charles Street, hundreds of people were getting ready to pass through the Google gates to the other side of known in a place considered by many as “the great unknown.”
After we signed a one-sided non-disclosure agreement and attached our name badges, we were escorted beyond the big glass door into the Google Bubble. As you look around the room you notice among the civilians, uniformed security people, poised, ready to politely head you off in case you move independently into an off-limits area. It isn’t invasive…but it’s there.
The Tannery is a massive hundred-plus year old industrial building which was the largest processor of animal hides in the commonwealth. Much of the design accents in Google’s newly renovated office are found, salvaged, materials from the Lang Tannery era.
Google likes their facilities to inhabit or reflect their geographical locations. Kitchener’s reflects agriculture and industry. The first thing you see when you walk into the reception area is the Google logo welded to an old sliding metal door from the original Tannery building. It stands in stark contrast (but apropos) to the ultra-cool designed surroundings which have become Google’s trademark…but somehow it all fits together nicely. It's described as “industrial sheek” .
But how did it happen that Google decided to come to Waterloo Region? Why not Toronto?
In 2005 Google, the creators of the web’s ultimate algorithm purchased a small start-up company in Waterloo which became Google Canada. The early days began in a facility resembling a basement, but quickly grew; expanding into a property on Hagey Boulevard at the University of Waterloo’s ResearchPark, home to RIM, Open text and the Accelerator Centre and Communitech incubator program.
Photo right: Dr. Steven Woods
Google Canada and the 100 employees who work there soon became an important part of the company’s global product initiatives.
“The Kitchener Waterloo region has long been a leader in Google itself… probably disproportionate to our size and we are very proud of that,” said Dr. Steven Woods, Engineering and Site Director of Google Canada...
“Google Canada is responsible for all Google mobile products. We have taken it upon ourselves to work within touch-based computing, developing key technologies which involve how people interact with their mobile devices,” said Woods.
“Obviously the Waterloo area, with its universities and its technologies which have come out of this wonderful centre, has driven a lot of the innovative thinking here at Google. We are leaders across many of the application areas of our company including machine learning and mobile applications development,” Woods said.
Woods pointed out that in three short year’s mobile technology has grown to the point where all technology is in the palm of your hand…This has allowed Google to become part of mainstream computing. Google is a major player with its Android OS and is signing up manufacturers in great numbers who can immediately access everything Google, without having to create another iPhone, iPad, Blackberry or Play Book. Thus allowing to extend their brand names into the palette world without R&D down time.
But it’s Google’s billions in ad revenues which have made it possible for the wonderful facility and work space that the global search and advertising giant enjoys everyday. Employees, while pampered with benefits and paid extremely well are expected to deliver the goods. It keeps everyone working hard and on their toes in the changing world of technology which Google itself is a driving leader.
"The Kitchener office is a shining example of everything Google stands for," said Stuart Feldman, Vice President of Google engineering. " I've had the pleasure of watching this site grow. They are now responsible for 5 areas of business and are about to expand again, having had the vision to secure options on more space at the Tannery," Feldman said.
Google works in partnerships with start-ups, universities, and of late, high schools, tapping into talent and young minds for the opportunities they can bring to the table and the impact they will surely have on the future of innovation and mobile technologies.
Google’s impact has only scratched the surface. While the world’s computer manufacturers are fighting it out for rapidly shifting market share, Google is quietly re-inventing the playing field and redefining the game itself with its brilliant applications and hand held delivery systems.