To some, Google may seem like a faraway fantasy-land of free lunches, sleeping pods, spinning hats and hallway slides. Although this is (mostly) true, Duncan and I had the opportunity to test the waters and do some investigating firsthand at the Headquarters in sunny San Jose, California this past month. Our advertising department received an invite for two to the Partners All-Stars 2015 Conference for a 3-day, 2-night stay. Needless to say our arms did not need much twisting!
With an early Tuesday morning start, we were off to San Jose, Starbucks in hand. Our first day was spent freely between the Caltrain and a variety of Uber drivers, with a full afternoon and evening to explore downtown San Fransisco. I personally had never been to the city before, Duncan however had a full agenda planned and ready to go. After a good half-hour commute from our hotel in San Jose, we hopped off the train and began our endeavor. We strolled through Union Square and a mob of minimum wage protesters, and admired some local modern art pieces before pausing for a selfie outside of the China Town entrance gates (completely necessary). After a browse through China Town, we hit a cute little bakery with an absolutely amazing selection of pastries, cakes, pies, you name it. My eyes were drooling… or I was crying tears of joy, one of the two. Post-delicious-snack it was time for a hike up to Lombard street to get a glimpse of the hairpin turns (I can’t imagine being stuck there during rush hour omg), a 27 degree angle to be exact. As a big tourist attraction, we weren’t the only weirdos standing in the middle of the road trying to get a picture with some strategically positioned flowerbeds! At the top of this huge hill we were able to get a glimpse of the infamous Alkatraz prison, along with some breathtaking multi-million dollar homes, complete with bay view. We headed back down the hill towards North Beach, dodging street cars on the way to what must’ve been heaven on Earth; Ghirardelli Chocolate Marketplace. Free chocolate samples upon entry easily made this adventure my favorite part of the trip. As a chocolate factory of sorts, they had every type and every form of chocolate you could imagine. Did I mention they gave out samples? Ahem, FREE chocolate? Just incase I didn’t make that clear. Deciding we needed a bit more to fill our tummies, we flagged down another Uber and grabbed some supper at a trendy baseball themed restaurant before hoping back on the Caltrain and heading home for the evening.
Wednesday morning arrived quickly and it was Google time before we knew it! We arrived on campus with two coach-loads of All-Stars attendees from across North America, eager and excited to see what Google had planned for us all. After registration and receiving our big kid name tags, the presentation began. We heard from many different head honchos from across the Google departments, including the Head of Marketing for Google Partners, Katerina Havrlant, Gopi Kallayil, Chief Evangelist Brand Marketing, and Tom Fishburne, creator of Marketoonist. Katerina shared a vision of innovation, as her position involves ensuring the proper resources, training and support are brought to the Google Partners Program agencies and individuals across 57 countries. What a gal! Gopi brought forth a personal story of his family in India, and the struggles he faced to put himself in the successful position he is in today. Determination is key, no matter your roots; Preach! He definitely drove that point home. Tom explained how he was just beginning to use his clever caricatures in the marketing industry, all of which were humorously clever. We also got a look at the many prototypes of Google Glass before the final version was released to the public, as well as a behind-the-scenes demo on one of Google’s newest toys; Cardboard. This bent piece of well, cardboard, is folded into a virtual reality headset with the help of your smartphone, and is being used to teach children about the world, across the world.
With a free lunch courtesy of the Google chefs, and a tour around the executive campus including a visit to the Google Giftshop, our clan of Google Partners All-Stars was ready for the after-party – it was 5 o’clock and the outdoor bar was calling our names! Beside the Google soccer fields (yes, they have their own soccer fields – multiple), an inviting venue had been set up, complete with a dj, a dinner buffet, yard games like horseshoe toss, a green screen for silly photos, and even a bouncy castle slide.
Take a guess who was first on the slide. Right here! That’s right, the kid in me was more excited about the slide than the open bar (or maybe a combination of both – one may have influenced the other). We chatted with some of the other agencies, meeting some awesome individuals from places like Dallas, Texas. As the crowd settled post-supper, the coaches pulled up and it was time to head back to the hotel and say goodbye to the promise-land.
I felt both blessed and enlightened by this awesome experience, and am very excited to push for another invite to the Partners All-Stars conference in the coming years. California stole my heart, if not just for the weather alone! See you next year, Google.