The Internship: Smart. Driven. Googley.
Before starting my summer internship at Google, I thought I knew three things about the people who worked here: They were smart, they were driven, and they were, as Google itself likes to put it, “Googley.” All of these things I thought I knew came from trailers for The Internship, the movie where Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn immortalized primary-colored propeller hats, and the rumor mill of the computer science department at my undergraduate university.
After excitedly preparing myself for a summer of trying out different campus cafes and gaining access to talks from renowned techies, artists, and scientists, COVID-19 struck and thwarted any plans for a “typical” internship experience. But while I may have lost the in-person experience, I gained extra time to learn more about the people at the heart of Google—shrinking the distance between floors and across campuses to a single mouse click away. Here is what I learned about what I thought I knew.
People here are smart
The problem solving I encountered during my internship was unparalleled. It takes a village, as they say, and I collaborated across product and functional groups to gain perspective on best practices and possible solutions. Even when the discussion was ad hoc, people were always prepared to debate ideas, source from their personal experience, and provide a sounding board for what I was crafting. Nobody I talked to was satisfied with just absorbing the discussion; people wanted to be a part of finding solutions, to be engaged members of the Google community, no matter how tangential.
People here are driven
Something my manager said to me that I will never forget is: “Taylor, I will never hold you back. Anything you want to do, I will only encourage and enable. I will never tell you not to do something, or to wait for me to check it.” What my manager was empowering me to do went beyond just being supportive. He was encouraging me to learn to be a leader in my project space, to work autonomously and tirelessly to make the right decision, and figure out what information I needed to know to make that decision. As I gained more perspective from the teams and people around me, I learned that this inherent fearlessness to be a pioneer was important in an organization that still holds true to its scrappy roots.
People here are Googley
For applicant hopefuls, this term can be elusive, its definition seemingly ever-changing based on the most recent news article or blog post. I will offer up yet another interpretation—based on the enthusiastic, passionate people I met over the summer and the praise I heard for “Googley” acts. Googleyness means being your own person and unafraid of being an advocate for whoever you are. Everybody I had the pleasure of meeting with was genuine in how they presented themselves—their way of thinking, their interests, and their values. And everybody around them unequivocally accepted and encouraged them. To me, being Googley was about being the best version of yourself and having the confidence to be an agent of change and an advocate, when needed.
The intersection of Google x Sustainability
There are employee groups at Google aimed at making personal and enterprise-level strategic changes in the name of sustainability. These groups are driven by engaged, passionate advocates within the company, but it isn’t just through these groups that I think they can or will change the world. Today, being a leader in sustainability encompasses several unspoken truths. It means:
- You are often solving problems that most people have not studied or even encountered, problems with possible solutions that are vast and constantly evolving.
- You may be pioneering an area where regulations are yet to be determined.
- You will have to be an advocate and take people along the journey with you to understand why a certain problem is important and why others should care.
All of these characteristics of a successful leader in sustainability are characteristics that Google empowers its employees to be: crafty problem solvers, pioneers, and advocates.
While Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn’s slapstick duo may not be the typical poster boys for the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals, they offer a new way to think about leadership. That leadership means being willing to do things differently, and do it with gusto.