Experiencing the Headquarters of Facebook and Google

On two different occasions, I had the privilege to experience the Facebook and Google headquarter, respectively. If you have never been, let me tell you what they are like – from my limited perspective of a few hours of visiting them.

Facebook

Facebook’s current offices (they moved) are located right  in Menlo Park, California. If you are a history or invention buff, this name will be familiar to you: In New Jersey, there is a town with the same name – and nobody less than Thomas Edison made the world’s first research lab there. I know that because I learned a lot about Edison in my Film 105 class at Berkeley, which is about the beginnings of cinema. And no worries – I know that if you are an educated reader of the internet generation, you will have seen plenty of memes of Tesla being the true genius and Edison being the credit-stealing douchebag. I largely agree, but I digress.

When you get to facebook, you have absolutely no idea that the largest social network in the world is housed here. A bland yet modern complex with some trees and some park – but no blue walls, no white lettering, nada – completely anonymous.

whose office building is this? Right... facebook. The only hint you get is a big "Like" Symbol in the driveway to the parking lot, but apart from that, this could be any company from the outside.

Whose office building is this? Right… facebook. The only hint you get is a big “Like” Symbol in the driveway to the parking lot, but apart from that, this could be any company from the outside.

The Cal student group visiting here - George organized (left). On the trip, I meet Janelle (girl with green shirt) for the first time, who would later produce my short film "All I Want Is Silence".

The Cal student group visiting here – George organized (left). On the trip, I meet Janelle (girl with green shirt) for the first time, who would later produce my short film “All I Want Is Silence”.

Leaving a quite temporary mark, just like a regular wall post.

Leaving a quite temporary mark, just like a regular wall post.

We go as part of a look-where-you-could-work-one-day trip that Film Postdoc George Larkin organizes. George also founded the internally widely popular “Berkeley Film Friends” group on facebook – oh, facebook again. There’s about 8 people on the trip, going in 2 cars. Most of us have different career aspirations, but we all are extremely interested in what goes on in Facebook’s Behind the Scenes – and who knows, maybe this trip motivates us to apply for a job at facebook one day. Once we get there, everyone takes photos of the outside and shares them on … – oh, facebook again. There’s this strange thing when you go to a social media magnate – you feel like this place is, in a way, such a big part of your life, and now you’re going to dissect its strongly beating heart. Weird, interesting, and certainly humbling: Go to any cafe, any millenial’s laptop – facebook will have its place there, guaranteed. Google and Facebook have a technological presence in our lives that no other company probably ever had before – it’s an amazing time to live in and witness all this new form of power developing.

Now, being at the headquarters as a visitor is probably only half as cool as having gone to Harvard while Zuckerberg facemashed the shit out your self esteem, but it’s an experience nonetheless. Did you ever notice that facebook periodically changes their layout, everyone is offended and complains, and a month later you don’t even remember how it looked before? That’s because facebook carries the philosophy of incompleteness, of eternal work-in-progress. If you look closely, you can see the word “progress” in work-in-progress.

We get our badges and are told only to take photos when it is allowed to do so. Privacy Concerns, you know – a common theme with facebook, we can perfectly understand. But the company is not uptight – rather, celebrating where it all came from, the largest social network in human history: Hacking, nerd-dom, humor. The meeting rooms are named things like “Ava Kedevra”, “Expelliarmus”, “Puff the Magic Drag-N-Drop” and so on – all signs of what people working for facebook are really like: A bunch of smart people with humor. Just the lawyers – our tour guide works in the legal department – have a bit more conservative names for their meeting rooms. Free food everywhere in neat custom-made machines, but you have to scan your employee ID, so it’s not like employees do their Grocery shopping in the vending machines here. Parts of the ceiling are exposed and you see wires, ceiling steel rods, cooling vents etc. hanging out of it – again, the “unfinished” look, nothing like the Sci-Fi-look I had in mind initially.

The facebook store - one of the few places where you are allowed to take pictures.

The facebook store – one of the few places where you are allowed to take pictures.

Funny Gadgets with facebook-insignia can be bought in the campus-internal store.

Funny Gadgets with facebook-insignia can be bought in the campus-internal store.

The "real" facebook wall in the Menlo Park headquarters.

The “real” facebook wall in the Menlo Park headquarters.

A facebook user taking a photo of a facebook sign in the facebook headquarter that says "Like Us On Facebook", so he can then upload it on facebook. Interesting.

A facebook user taking a photo of a facebook sign in the facebook headquarter that says “Like Us On Facebook”, so he can then upload it on facebook. Christopher Nolan would be proud.

Google

The google campus - open design, easy to search.

The google campus – open design, easy to search.

The first thing that will tell you “This ain’t a normal company” after you enter the parking lot is the racks full of yellow-green-blue-red bicycles. You can just take them, they are not locked; Google employees get around their fairly large campus with these vehicles. The second thing you notice are large tour buses that take employees back to their home towns, basically a double decker carpool for the bright minds that work hard on “organizing the world’s information and making it universally accessible and useful“.

That said, I am going to Google because one of my buddies from Agora Startup House – the 100 year-old house I live in – invited me to join him in visiting a Berkeley friend who just started working at Google. As an intern. Now, how cool is that – I am going to a Google party that is being thrown for google interns, right when the trailer for “The Internship” is everywhere. So meta!

As the film depicts correctly, when Google Newbies, or “Nooglers” are around, they can proudly wear the propeller hat that no kid ever actually wore. By making it part of the google experience, these beanies now finally have a place in the world outside of the head of Hollywood costume designers that don’t remember what nerds in their days looked like. Either way, although google likes to know what you’re doing and have some insights in your life [for analytical purposes, unless you are a cynic], it’s not exactly the other way around: Google is quite private about what goes on in their buildings when it comes to the public visiting them. Fortunately, we get a visitor pass (which you only get if you came by invitation from an employee of the company), and can roam around in the crowded plaza full of whiz kids and smart dudes.

One of the Google Campus buildings in its full beauty.

One of the Google Campus buildings in its full beauty.

Observation:

  • Definitively a predominately young crowd
  • Most people look like totally normal people
  • Lots of groups, cliques and teamwork mentality
  • Most people there have big heads (otherwise why would they be smart?)
The google bathrooms feature a magnificent collection of tampons - other companies should do this too!

The google bathrooms feature a magnificent collection of tampons – other companies should do this too!

Inside the cafeteria / main hall, there’s a live concert and free food. Gourmet finger food. I load two plates full of Soy Sauce marinated Beef Jerky – best merge of Western and Eastern cultures that you can imagine. As an ambassador for world peace, I obviously have to eat as much of these exotic hybrids. Other guys compliment me on my choice of lunch – I even meet one guy who works on google maps because of my Jerkiness. He has just about the coolest name (which I forgot), something like Wiz Ard. I tell him he should be an actor, he laughs and declines the offer. I tell him that google maps is freaking awesome, and that there is a rumor that only geeks and google employees use Google plus. He shrugs it off – but later asks me if I knew how to change certain privacy options in Google plus. Seems like not even Google employees are using it very much.

Phil, generous sponsor of this trip, and one of the google bicycles. If you're Austrian, try to remember "Tom Turbo". Yeeeeah!

Phil, generous sponsor of this trip, and one of the google bicycles. If you’re Austrian, try to remember “Tom Turbo”. Yeeeeah!

With a Noogler and the famous hat, after the party is over and all the Soy Sauce Beef Jerky is eaten.

With a Noogler and the famous hat, after the party is over and all the Soy Sauce Beef Jerky is eaten.