New Google Seattle Head Sees “Shocking Diversity” in Local Tech Skills

When Doug Orr first moved up to Google’s Seattle office in mid-2010, he found a lot to like. The infrastructure expert isn’t a California guy—he came to Google by way of Ann Arbor, MI—and found Seattle’s culture, and even its climate, a little more familiar than Silicon Valley’s. “People are pretty laid back here, and there’s a lot of interest in beautiful green things,” Orr says.

One thing that was missing, however, was a large contingent of Googlers working on the networking side of the business. “I spent six months doing video conferences in a very small room, eight hours a day,” he says with a smile. “That was not a pinnacle fulfillment experience. But it worked OK.”

Things have picked up since then. As we first reported last month, Orr is the new Seattle site director for Google, giving him a senior management role with the Mountain View, CA-based web advertising and search titan. He replaces former director Brian Bershad, who is now on a new assignment in Russia for Google. Orr works closely with Scott Silver, a manager in Google’s advertising unit who has been director of Google’s Kirkland office since mid-2009.

Google Seattle

The pair oversees more than 1,000 employees for the growing office, which is expanding further on its Fremont neighborhood campus in Seattle as it takes over space previously occupied by Getty Images. Googlers in the Seattle-Kirkland offices work on a large swath of high-priority projects, including the network user connections within Google Plus, the company’s new social service, and Hangouts, the video-conferencing service that’s also part of Google Plus.

Orr retains major responsibilities in Google’s infrastructure unit, where he’s in charge of the systems that manage, monitor, and plan capacity for the traffic that flows through Google’s vast network. In addition, Orr is closely involved with Google’s moves into the retail cloud-computing market—a market that crosstown tech giant has revolutionized with its Amazon Web Services division. Google’s offerings include a cloud storage service, a relational database service, and Google BigQuery, which lets developers analyze huge sets of data.

“The infrastructure team is definitely growing here. It’s incredibly important to me, and the projects are actually completely awesome. I’m very excited about what we’re doing here,” Orr says. “Between the networking and other infrastructure stuff I do, I have connections with all the major offices, and it’s a great source of interesting diversity.”

While Orr downplays his appointment as a pretty simple case of filling a need, Google Kirkland site director Scott Silver—who’s been in his job since mid-2009—says Orr’s ability to tackle big projects is well known.

“The process by which Doug became the site director here wasn’t just like he raised his hand and there was no one else raising their hand, or something like that,” Silver says. “Doug actually has an excellent track record at Google about building consensus among disparate interests, someone who can build a community out of a bunch of parts that don’t all look the same at the beginning.”

Site directors serve as the semi-public faces of Google’s Seattle-area operations. That means they play key roles in finding possible acquisitions, building connections with the University of Washington’s computer science department, and recruiting new Googlers to the team.

“The majority of our time is spent working in the areas in which we make software. But at the end of the day, the site needs an identity based on the projects it works on,” Silver says. “It’s really important, in concert with the recruiting team, to have people who are passionate about building stuff to attract people to work on their teams.”

The past few years have seen a flood of Silicon Valley tech companies, big and small alike, heading to the Seattle area to fill their rosters with talented people from Microsoft, Amazon, the University of Washington, and the startup scene. The grizzled veteran of that pack would have to be Google, which first established an engineering office in the region in 2004.

Even though recruiting in the area is a lot more competitive now, Google is still growing quickly. Along with the expanded Seattle offices, there’s a new facility up in the Bothell area, which GeekWire found could hold more than 800 workers. To visitors, the company is eager to show off its bright, colorful offices with all the tech-company bells and whistles you’d expect: Game rooms, massage therapists, full cafeterias, snacks everywhere, and even rentable kayaks hanging on a wall.

“We’re out there aggressively growing. You wouldn’t hear about space coming online if we didn’t want people to work in that space,” Silver says.

For his part, Orr says the range of skills on display in the Seattle area has been a pleasant surprise, with smart people running the gamut of experience from gaming and interactive media to hard-core infrastructure and systems backgrounds.

“There’s really kind of a shocking diversity,” Orr says. “And there are a lot of people that have overlap with the kinds of problems that we do. So we’ve had a lot of good luck in terms of getting very high-quality talent.”

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