Even after seeing the cook-out in full flow, entering the main building feels like stepping into Hamleys. In most companies' foyers you might expect to see a desk, a table with some magazines and a bored-looking receptionist. The first thing you run into in the Googleplex is a piano. Then your eyes are drawn to the live feed of search terms beamed onto the wall behind the beaming receptionist. This scrolling list of search criteria has been tastefully filtered to keep out the more lurid terms typed in by Google's worldwide user base. Given the popularity of porn on the Net, this surrender to conformity is undoubtedly a good thing -- not what you want recent visitors such as former US president Jimmy Carter, actress Gwyneth Paltrow and UK pop flavour-of-the-month Coldplay (front man Chris Martin is friends with a Google programmer, it is later explained) to see when they come through the door.
Sitting on the front desk is a huge birthday cake, which according to the receptionist is "for everyone in the company whose birthday it is this month." The sheer amount of goodies that Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin (the pair still share an office, which is confusingly disorganised or creatively eclectic, depending on your perspective) lavish on their employees doesn't stop with comestibles though. Employees are entitled to spend 20 percent of their work time on an outside activity. Whether any of them actually do is questionable -- and it's only when you consider exactly how much time employees spend at work that all the perks come into context.
According Debbie, the press relations person showing me around, things like weekdays and weekends have little meaning at the Googleplex -- along with working hours and clocking off time, one assumes. But with free food, beer, and friendly animals to keep you company, why would you ever want to leave? In fact one dedicated Googleite actually stopped going home altogether -- management started to get suspicious when he had his mail diverted to the office.
Google is also relatively unique in Silicon Valley when it comes to recruitment -- in that it's actually doing some. While most tech companies are cutting or freezing headcount -- old-school stalwart Sun recently announced around 1,000 layoffs -- Google has around 60 vacancies. To this end the company is hosting an event, called Code Jam, in October to attract the brightest programming talent around to add to the 60 or more PhDs it already employs (Google claims to have the highest percentage of computer science PhDs working in any company on the planet). The competition, basically a test of Internet-based programming skills, will see 25 people invited to the Googleplex to fight it out for a number of positions.