Google hiring like it's 1999

The search giant is stocking up on engineers and more as it races to keep pace with its own ambitions.

It may take a village to raise a child, as Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton likes to say. But it looks like it's going to take quite a bit more than that to fulfill the Google dream of one day indexing all the world's information for that little tyke.

The search giant is on a hiring tear. In its most recent quarter, which ended Sept. 30, Google added 800 employees, bringing its global work force to 4,989. That's more than triple the total from just two years ago.

"For a tech company to do that, we haven't seen that since the bubble," said Umesh Ramakrishnan, vice chairman at executive search firm Christian & Timbers.

Still, it would be difficult to argue that Google is hiring irresponsibly like an old dot-com, considering its sales are keeping pace with that work force growth. Google's third-quarter revenue nearly doubled from a year ago to $1.58 billion, with a net income of $381.2 million.

At the moment, Google has at least 1,000 positions available all over the world, according to a count of job openings on the company's Web site. It's difficult to provide an exact tally. Though the openings cover nearly every facet of Google, from advertising sales to human resources, the bulk of the openings are in what the search company's executives hold most dear--engineering.

"They don't even have to recruit, it's so hot," said Stephen Arnold, author of "The Google Legacy: How Google's Internet Search is Transforming Application Software." "I gave a keynote recently in Nimes (France) followed by someone from Google and right in front of my eyes three people went up to him and said, 'How can I get hired at Google?'"

Of course, there have been more than a few high-profile hires. Google picked up controversial computer scientist Kai-Fu Lee, whose hiring away from Microsoft landed Google in court, and Internet pioneer Vint Cerf, who co-designed the TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol) and previously worked for MCI.

But for every tech luminary, a few hundred not-so-famous people have been hired. And the question of course is: What does this mean to the rest of an industry that already complains about a lack of good engineering talent?

"We see that some of these graduates that would have gone to a telecommunications company as recently as three to four years ago would much rather be hired by Google or a mini-Google because they believe the industries are converging," Ramakrishnan said.

So what does Google look for in an employee?

Growth stats

In a speech at the VortexSF 2005 technology show in San Francisco last week, Douglas Merrill, senior director of Information Services Technology at Google, said his company believes that today's work world moves too fast to hire "experts." Rather, he said, Google looks for "learners."

"We always try to hire a person that is too good for the current job and is about right for the job that is the next step," Merrill said. "We always overhire."

The company has an online applicant-tracking system that allows the job seeker and those who are doing the hiring--a broad group from across the company--to send information electronically in response to automated e-mails.

A committee made up of Googlers--not the hiring manager--then looks at all the material and evaluates all of the information.

Employees are evaluated in a similar way, with all those with whom they work able to submit information publicly to their review. Additionally, everyone at the company can view what projects any other employee is working on.

Merrill acknowledged that both the way Google hires and evaluates employees is unusual.

"We view ourselves as a living experiment," he said. "What we do is clearly less efficient...The question is: What is the return on that tax?"

Given those tough standards, Google isn't missing any

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