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.

Elinor Mills Former Staff Writer
Elinor Mills covers Internet security and privacy. She joined CNET News in 2005 after working as a foreign correspondent for Reuters in Portugal and writing for The Industry Standard, the IDG News Service and the Associated Press.
Elinor Mills
5 min read
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

opportunity to find the best and the brightest. The company ran a student code-writing contest this summer. It also often hires people who hack Google code or do interesting things with it, including Paul Rademacher, who wrote Housingmaps.com, which combined Google Maps and Craigslist real estate listings in the first Google map mash-up.

"Yahoo was the media darling in the '90s. Google is that company today."
--Gautam Godhwani, chief executive, SimplyHired.com

Google "is completely changing the paradigm in the way you and I think about things like a normal telephone call or opening up the yellow pages. They are changing the way we live life. Who doesn't want to be a part of something like that?" Ramakrishnan said.

A recruiting video on the Google Jobs Web site shows smiling employees discussing the company's meals and snacks, and the resultant "Google 15," referring to the weight new employees gain from eating all the free food.

Among the other perks offered at Google's headquarters, affectionately dubbed "Googleplex," are an on-site doctor and dentist, massage and yoga, child care, maternity and paternity leave, adoption assistance, on-site dry cleaning and coin-free laundry room, and one day set aside for engineers to work on pet projects.

"Yahoo was the media darling in the '90s. Google is that company today," said Gautam Godhwani, chief executive at job search site SimplyHired.com

"Google continues to represent a company that is much closer to being in its early stages, with rapid growth, never having had a significant failure and ramping quickly with a compelling vision," Godhwani said.

That's not to say that Yahoo isn't doing its share of hiring. Yahoo hired 880 employees in the third quarter, bringing its work force to 9,660 employees. That's up from 7,022 a year earlier. In fact, this has been the busiest hiring year in the history of the Internet pioneer. But as a percentage of the total work force, Yahoo's additions are a little more than half those at Google.

Google stats

Also hiring fast are global outsourcing companies like Wipro, Infosys and Tata Consultancy Services, which says it plans to hire 13,500 workers this fiscal year.

Of course, there are plenty of risks when a company is growing as fast as Google. Most important, will it be forced to water down recruiting standards? "The management challenges of this are a potential deal breaker for Google," Arnold said. "As they get bigger and bigger and more and more distributed that's going to be tough."

A Google spokeswoman downplayed such concerns. "Our recruiting organization is world-class, and we've been pleased with our ability to scale quickly without sacrificing the quality of our recruits," Google spokeswoman Lynn Fox wrote in an e-mail.

But as long as Google can continue its revenue climb while still being viewed as a technical innovator, bringing in top-notch talent shouldn't be too difficult in the near-term.

Google "is so incredibly democratic. It's like an electromagnet for talent," Arnold said. "I think it's the new Bell Labs...If I were 35, I'd be begging them to hire me."

CNET News.com's Ina Fried contributed to this report.