I spent last Wednesday in one of Google's 'factories,' a sparkling new shop set up six months ago. A group of educators and I learned about Applied Digital Skills and had a tour of the Wonka-eque (Wonky?) premises.
The tour began in this forested lobby:
Our guide explained how each of the office's four floors revolved around a Colorado motif. Interestingly, we got the inside scoop that, while these are actual trees, they're not actually native aspens but birches, which hold up better indoors.
We took the stairs to the top story, a mountain-themed redoubt where Googlers can savor "vegetable-forward" breakfasts and lunches along with the view:
Around the corner, to capture the alpine feel, sat a couple of ski gondolas like this one:
They double as cones of silence for on-the-fly collaboration. More inside dope: Turns out retired Rocky Mountain gondolas were too pricey, so Google imported theirs from Europe.
On to Google's library, a quiet, darkened zone for reflective work. My irony detector, though, split the silence when I noticed one of the original search engines shelved in the home of our era's leading search engine:
Other floors nodded to the state's camping and mining past/present. Yes, there were also indoor gyms and a rock climbing wall thoughtfully stocked with "community shoes." (A group of fitness fanatics jogged past our tour, chugging down the stairs during their mid-day workout!) The first floor featured a bike shop, inaugurated to memorialize an employee who lost his life while pedaling, the victim of a hit-and-run.
The whole thing felt unreal, even with the very real presence of workers at desks clicking keyboards. I thought about nibbling-around-the-edges classroom redesigns (not to be under-rated, to be sure) even as my mind reeled at what Google had wrought from scratch for a reported $130 million.
I found uneasy the ease with which show and substance mingled. (Side note: Having read The Circle by Dave Eggers, this truth felt stranger than his fiction.) On one hand, strive for work-life balance, the facility announced; on the other hand, the corporate culture preached, don't stop working. As the tour guide summarized, "The people who fail in tech are the ones who are like, 'We did it.' " Instead, she described how workers here are never finished; they're always adapting. That sentiment felt like one touchstone of commonality in their professional experience and mine.
Time to cut off this slice. My irony detector is going off again as I finalize this writing via a Google product linked to my Google account.