One day in May 2011, I was contacted by a Google recruiter to apply for a job on the Google UX team. I made it to the all-day onsite interview in Mt. View. Google was *awesome* to work with, and the whole experience was an honor and educational journey.
Out of respect to Google and their process, I won’t be talking about any of the specific hoops. There’s no cheat-sheets or pro-tips here. Just my tale of visiting Google HQ in Mountain view.
This is that story.
Email Heard Round The World
May 3rd, 2011 I received an email from someone @google.com. I assumed it was some sort of scam or phishing attempt. I had not sent in an application or resume – in fact, after checking my analytics, I saw how they found me: They did a Google search for:
Pretty clever. I have done alot to SEO my site, so at that time I was on page 7… right now I am on page 1, result 7 (from what I can tell doing a search through a proxy so it doesn’t geolocate me to Salt Lake City).
I replied to the email sort of saying “Yeah sure, hit me with whatever questions you have.” A few days later, I got a call from a random area code. Sure enough, it was Google recruiting. They asked me many of the standard phone screen questions, really basic stuff that wasn’t really UX specific. At this point, I was pretty shocked. It was very surreal to be talking to Google out of nowhere.
Anyways – I was told I would have a phone call with one of the UX designers. I got a call from Mountain View, and spoke for about an hour with a UX designer. This particular designer worked on “apps” as he put it. Pretty awesome. I answered his questions the best I could, but I did something different this time, compared to how I usually answer on interviews. I did not embelish or try to be impressive. I figured, this is Google, they aren’t going to be fooled or impressed by bravado or buzzwords. So I just played it straight – gave them solid answers, doing the best I could.
Little did I know, things were about to get real.
A few days later, maybe a week (this whole process took 6 weeks), I was emailed again saying “Congrats! We would like to proceed with phase 3 – the Project.”
I was asked to choose from a selection of micro-projects, which I would complete to specific parameters. I am not going to say what they were, or what I did, I don’t want to give away Google’s process. But I will say, that it was quite a challenge. I had a deadline, and a 3 hour time limit I wanted to respect, and with the pressure of doing something “good enough” to pass on my mind, it was a very nervewracking experience. But, I dove into the micro-project the best I could, did everything they asked me to do, and uploaded it to be viewed by the UX team.
My project far from ideal. But I was given very specific parameters – no spending 10 days working on it, I had a tiny window and urgent deadline. It was a test of talent, but also a test of agility.
I uploaded that sucker… and stayed glued to the analytics.
No visits. No visits. No visits. Boom. 7 visits from “Mountain View” in one day. Things were real now. I was being evaluated by the team, and this is what they were going to use to make their decision on if I continue. Tick tick tick.
About a week later, I got the email: Congratulations Erik! We would like to invite you to an onsite interview here at Google Headquarters in Mountain View, California.
I tell everyone who is in my inner cicle, “Folks, I have been called upon to visit the Googleplex.”
June 21st at 10am. Perfect summer day. Terrified, I drove onto 1600 Amphitheater Parkway, and into the Google parking lot. Plenty of open spaces, right near the front. No one drives to Google, pssssh. They take one of the Google buses that drive all around the bay area, or they ride bikes. So many bikes. Bikes everywhere. I was early, on purpose, so I just walked around. There were so many buildings, it was like a college campus. People hanging around outside, talking, eating breakfast, walking around.
I walked around for about half an hour, saw the volleyball court, the dinosaur T-Rex sculpture, all the freaking bikes.
It was finally time to get down to business. I went to my building, signed in, and got my visitor badge. I sat down in the lobby waiting for the recruiter to come greet me. On the windows behind me was stained glass, made out of Google designs. Also – it was blistering hot under the sun, I was afraid I’d be too sweaty like George Costanza. My recruiter came down, greeted me, and we were on our way. He was a super nice guy, just awesome. Everyone was awesome.
Right off the bat, they were going to come in with the high heat, fastballs straight past the nose. I was lead into a conference room, and told “Set up your computer, get the projector ready, and the team will be in shortly.” It was almost time. It was like the moments before a big sports game (not that I’d know).
The team came in. Of course, they were all cool and collected – to them, this was just an hour they had to take out of their day. No big deal. To me, this was the trial of my life. I had to present my project, defend it, and field questions about my portfolio.
I stood there quiet like I always do in interviews, which I’ve had a ton of recently. I don’t smalltalk, I don’t try and make myself more comfortable, I just get ready. Every one was seated, and I asked “We all ready to start?” Everyone kind of nodded, I hit the lights, and clicked my Apple Remote to stat my presentation.
Finally I was in my element, the only place I feel comfortable in the world. The only place I come alive. That place: Speaking in front of people. Talking about the one thing I love – work. UX. Problem solving. The internet. Innovation. Invention. It was time to lay things down on the line and take control of the situation.
I started talking, and things just flowed form there. I was answering questions with confidence, explaining my project and my portfolio with humility and ferocity at the same time. I was telling jokes and zingers. Hands up on the wall the projection was on, gesturing and pointing and just living it up. I felt great, even though I had no idea the outcome, at least I know I was in the moment, doing my best. Anticipation and fear were gone – it was time to take swings at those fastballs. That’s where everyone is equal. It doesn’t matter who is throwing, or who is batting. All that matters is if you make contact or not. Just keep your eye on the ball and let everything else go.
And, from my perspective, I had a bunch of strikes, a bunch of base hits, a few doubles, a few triples, and I know for certain a homerun or 2 (no grand slams though). People on the UX team actually would interrupt me and tell me that answer was “great” and they had never thought of that before. At one point, there was even some light arguing amongst the team, some people thinking the answer was ambiguous and off the mark, and other team members saying “No, I get exactly what he is saying, it sounds great.” That was a huge confidence booster.
I was taken to lunch at one of the many Google cafes. Gourmet food, all buffet style. It was awesome. And all free to the employees. You could eat every meal there all day, and snacks and drinks too. I had an hour to eat with one of the UX designers, sort of talk, and prepare for the rest of the gauntlet. Soon enough, the hour was over and it was time for the one on ones.
The One on Ones
This is where it got hairball. There’s no real need to describe each interview (there were 5 hour long interviews), so I’ll sum them up in a list.
- The questions were hard. They weren’t “gotcha” questions or paradoxes, they were legit questions a UX person would be faced with at the biggest internet juggernaut. I did my best, but a few times I just had to say “I don’t know. The best I can do is postulate an answer, but straight up, I’ve never even considered that idea until you asked.”
- Some questions were based on the premise that a person would know how to handle huge volumes of visitors. I didn’t. I had no idea how to tackle questions that hinged on knowing what the implications of hundreds of millions of pageviews a week entailed.
- I thought too small. This was my biggest mistake. I was in the mindset of the current rank and station in my career – limited resources, limited innovation in the workplace, and limited thought based on past experience. These people were used to literal “anything goes” answers, and I was stuck in smalltime thinking.
- By the last interview, I had drank a redbull, had 2 excedrins, had a killer migraine, and was tired as all hell. I had to just limp across the finish line. I knew that I had sucked, and I just hoped that it didn’t hurt me too bad.
I just sort of collapsed with fatigue, and had to leave immediately to catch my flight at SFO. I had zero idea how I would be judged. Some answers were good, some sucked, but I had made it this far, they had vetted the crap out of me. Who knows, maybe they were looking for someone like me.
Nope. About 2 weeks later, I was notified by phone that I was not going to be offered a job. Not much else to say.
The experience was great. Everyone was nice, really encouraging, and totally cooperative. I’ve read things about Google interviews where people complain, but I have none. It was a totally positive experience. I wanted to work there in a big way, but I just wasn’t what they wanted at the time. And I don’t blame them, I am sure the other candidates could easily have surpassed me, hell they might have been coming from any of the other tech giants with that massive enterprise experience. I was just outclassed. No hard feelings.