Google Kirkland Is Hiring, and Other Highlights from the Company’s Northwest Birthplace

This morning I checked my e-mail, powered by Google, and then used Google Maps to find my way to the Google Kirkland open house. It reminded me a little bit of the scene in “Being John Malkovich” when Malkovich, the actor, finds a portal into his own brain and sees that everyone looks like him and says nothing but, “Malkovich, Malkovich.” OK, I guess the analogy would fit better if I also worked for Google and uttered “Google, Google” all day—but that might even happen sometime, if Google’s pace of hiring keeps up. (Just kidding.)

Engineering and site director Scott Silver, who’s been on the job since June (succeeding Peter Wilson, who left the company), introduced the new Kirkland facility, which has been officially open since August 31 and employs more than 350 people in a unified campus setting. He gave a little history of Google’s Kirkland operation—the first office was at Carillon Point in 2004, Google’s first major presence in the Northwest—and how it has grown and contributed to the company’s products. Google Talk, which does Internet telephony and instant messaging, was born and raised in Kirkland, for instance.

Other areas of focus for the Kirkland office include:

—Search: Webmaster tools, and instant indexing for real-time news.

—Advertising: AdPlanner (see below), AdWords Opportunities (helping advertisers optimize search ads), Google Analytics, and Campaign Insights (a new service released last week that’s around making brand ads more effective).

—Applications: Google Talk, Google Talk Video (within Gmail), Google Maps (including a new application for directions on mobile phones), the Chrome Web browser, YouTube video clips, and Google Sync (for synchronizing your mobile phone).

—Infrastructure: system and corporate billing software for supporting applications at huge scales.

Silver, a former Amazon and Netscape veteran, said he’s “quite proud of what we’ve done here, and immensely happy to come to this day,” and to be able to say Google is here to “create great products and find great engineers.”

I followed up with Silver afterwards, and he confirmed Google Kirkland is actively hiring software engineers, but he didn’t say how many positions are open at the moment. He said his team is doing hundreds of interviews per month, “and we’d love to do more.” I asked him about the 800-pound gorilla down the road, Microsoft, and whether Google is recruiting much talent from the Redmond company these days. He said he wasn’t sure what percentage of Google’s local staff came from Microsoft, but I got the sense it wasn’t all that high.

James Lauinger, the mayor of Kirkland, made a few remarks about Google’s importance to the local community. “Having a facility with high-paying jobs is key to Kirkland’s development,” he said. “Bringing high-tech to Kirkland is a key strategy.” He also stressed that Google should get involved with neighborhood transportation issues—in particular, in helping to bring “high-capacity transit to this region.”

Google’s senior vice president of engineering and research, Alan Eustace, then relayed some fun stories from the early days of Google Kirkland. One was that co-founder Larry Page originally liked Kirkland in part because it reminded him of Palo Alto, CA, and that he thought Google should be part of a community here rather than “just another building.” Another was that 15 minutes after Google announced it was setting up an office in Kirkland, computer scientist Ed Lazowska from the University of Washington called Eustace to chide him for not siting it closer to UW (on the other side of Lake Washington).

“We want the best people,” Eustace said about the talent pool around Seattle. He pointed to the region’s distinguished history of “great computer science” stretching back for decades, and called it “a very innovative place.” He also emphasized that the company’s Seattle-area teams are not being marginalized—a common problem among remote corporate labs. “It’s not just an appendage to Mountain View,” he said, referring to Google’s headquarters in Silicon Valley.

I also caught a couple of neat demos in the room. One was a Google Maps application for getting biking directions, which help you get from A to B on a bicycle while avoiding most car traffic. John Leen, an engineer at Google Seattle, said it’s working for 50 cities and is “coming soon.” He also showed some international updates to the traffic tracker (France, England, Scotland, Australia). John Merrill and Sean McGuire, engineers in Kirkland, showed off their AdPlanner interface for helping online advertisers find the best websites to place their ads. The tool, which includes website profiles and detailed information about what keywords visitors search for and so forth, has been available since June 2008 and has “many thousands of users,” Merrill said.

On a tour of the Kirkland facility, a Google spokeswoman emphasized how green the building design is (it is LEED Silver certified). Its features include light and motion sensors on all lighting fixtures, high-efficiency water fixtures, reused and recycled furniture, and recharging stations for electric vehicles.

Lastly, as I am wont to do, I asked Alan Eustace and Scott Silver individually to boil down Google’s culture to one word. Neither took the bait. Eustace did say Google’s culture is quite uniform across its various centers worldwide. He used words like innovative, open to new ideas, community focused (versus competitive), happy, and high-energy, to describe the culture, but wouldn’t commit to just one of them.

Silver came closer to giving me one take-home message. “Engineers are in charge,” he said.

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