Yesterday morning I boarded the 8:20 AM train to Zurich. I’ve done this a few times before to go visit our ICP client. This time, however, I was going to interview with Google for a Product Manager position.
I arrived in Zurich around 10:30 and used the Google Maps Walking Directions feature from my mobile phone to find my way to the Google office. The office was fun and kind of over-the-top but not quite as much so as I expected. Perhaps my expectations had been artificially inflated by all the press this office received (at least here in Switzerland) when it opened back in January. Still, it was pretty cool: lots of game rooms, snack rooms, coffee bars, a fitness center, an aquarium-lined power nap room, all kinds of funky meeting rooms (with Star Wars-based names) and developer areas. I tested out the fire pole that you can take from one floor to another but didn’t have a chance to use the slide into the cafeteria. The cafeteria was awesome, definitely IMD-level, and it serves three meals a day. I don’t have to tell you how much I would take advantage of that benefit!
I had five interviews during the day, four with product managers and one with a software engineer. They were all very different, some focusing on product design, some on software technology challenges, some on strategy and management, and some on analytical brain teasers. Most of my interviewers were from different countries, they all seemed very sharp, and, best of all, I never really felt like I was being interviewed. Instead we had very engaging discussions about interesting and challenging problems. There was no “right answer” to any of the questions I was asked all day, just mutually participatory discussions, many of which left me feeling really excited. It really felt like the discussions Alex (or others) and I would frequently have about the future of products, technologies, and consumer behaviors. Sometimes those discussions would be about near-term ideas and sometimes they were a little more science fiction-y. Google seems like one of the few organizations with so much talent/resources/users that it can take real steps toward making the sci fi ideas reality.
At the end of the interviews I was informed that I had accessed the secret bonus round and would have two more interviews with Product Management Directors. Although I characterized Italians as lazy to one of them who turned out to be Italian himself (despite having a very German-sounding name!), I thoroughly enjoyed those discussions as well.
I stumbled a few times throughout the day. For example, some of my interviewers challenged me about my stated objective of helping to change the world of energy and how on earth working at Google would accomplish that. My responses weren’t terribly eloquent or convincing there; shame on me for not preparing better.
Still, after seven interviews, I finished the day at 7 PM feeling very positive. These really felt like “my kind of people.” In my experience there’s a certain kind of magic that comes from a great team. Someone starts a discussion with an idea, others critique it, react to it, and add their own ideas. The level of frenetic excitement rises until everyone decides that the idea has to be pursued and then they all get down to business. This was the type of entropy I felt in my discussions all day, which was a very positive sign.
In many ways, yesterday was like my IMD interview day. I came in not really knowing what to expect. The day was set up to simulate some of the daily challenges encountered by the position for which I was interviewing. I had great, enlightening discussions with a bunch of really smart, diverse people. I left still thinking about the discussions and generating new ideas that I wished I had brought up during the interviews but feeling energized, able to visualize myself contributing to and benefiting from such an environment, and hoping they felt the same way. Oh, right, and I had an awesome lunch! So, we shall see!
After the interviews I met up with a friend of mine in Zurich for dinner (overlooking the city at night–beautiful!) and drinks at a cigar bar by the train station. Zurich seems like a really nice town that has the amenities that come with a major urban area (very international airport and accomplished arts, for example) without many of the drawbacks (high crime, for example). It’s certainly not a cheap place to live but it also has one of the highest quality of life rankings in the world. Again, we shall see!
Pictures are in my facebook album.