RTO at the Googleplex

Jul 8, 2023ยท

3 min read

I've been back at Google for a year already - it's hard to believe the time has passed so quickly. It will soon also be the 15th anniversary since the day I first joined Google in 2008.

A lot has changed. It's a bit of an eerie experience at times - the company itself is very different, but there's also this uncanny feeling when I walk around the hallways, especially at the Mountain View campus.

I found myself the other day wandering around in building 900, which is the building that housed the DevTools team when I joined in 2008 (they'd just moved there from the beating heart of Google in Building 43 on the Googleplex, and I remember some were a bit unhappy about that shift and what it meant). This was during a golden period for DevTools - Blaze was quickly becoming the main build tool for google3, and the years immediately following it would see quite significant improvements with Forge and Objfs making google3 into quite the impressive (and scalable) monorepo. It was also the year that Chrome launched, and learning about it and playing with it before its release was quite exciting.

Like most Google buildings, 900 has changed enormously since 2008 on the inside. It's pleasant (REWS, the real estate folks at Google, do a tremendous job of making the buildings very stylish - things felt much more cheap & cheerful and weirdly less well-lit when I joined), but entire office configurations have disappeared. The area where I sat when I first joined is now a bit of a hallway. The nearby micro kitchen is still in the same place, and it feels quite familiar, albeit with far fewer snacks than it had 15 years ago.

There's a window on the second floor of 900. It's designed in a way that looking out of it feels a bit like peering out of the laser turret of the Millenium Falcon. I remember back in 2008 the window used to be always covered in dusty cobwebs. The atrium it was in was kind of dark, had a broken down arcade machine, and a bright red sofa with scratchy material of the kind that you could find all over the Googleplex in those days. I used to go there to eat MK snacks (again, they had quite yummy ones at the time) and maybe read a bit of the late Bob Lee's book on Guice. Because Guice was the hotness then. Now it's sparkly clean, bright, and full of modern expensive office furniture. When I sat there the other day I sort of felt the ghost of my old self and that old place and company and the magic it had. I overheard a conversation between two Googlers bemoaning the recent RTO announcement and how all that time spent commuting would be such a waste of time they could spend being productive.

I have mixed feelings about the enforced RTO thing - I'm a parent so I enjoy the flexibility of hybrid (while simultaneously realizing that we always had a fair amount of flexibility, but now it's sort of enforced). I'm also a dinosaur, so I'm just used to being in an office and collaborating with people by, like, talking with them.

When I heard that conversation though, I felt a mild sense of loss about a time when we were just excited beyond belief to be here at Google. It'll never again I think have quite the same sense of magic and specialness as it did in those days, and that's ok. While knowing that it's different now, I'm glad to have lived in that time, and it has certainly been nice coming back and getting the chance to see it all once again.