How to Launch a Googellite: Stephen Vinter Speaks

If you were creating a satellite office for Google 3,100 miles away from the Googleplex in Mountain View, CA, yet you wanted to make it authentically Google, what would you do? The short, superficial answer would be to buy a few lava lamps, paint the walls in bright primary colors, build a great cafeteria with lots of free jelly beans and energy bars, and offer piles of options on Google’s $600-something-and-rising stock to your recruits.

Stephen Vinter, site manager at Google’s fast-growing Cambridge, MA, operation, has done all of those things. Oh, I forgot to mention the big rooms crowded with workstations, the giant posters of Google’s clever holiday logos, the Rubik’s Cubes, and the smiley-face mylar balloons flying over the desks of the new employees. Google’s offices on the 7th and 13th floors at One Broadway in Kendall Square, where Vinter showed me around on Tuesday, have those too.

But that’s just the Google that visitors, magazine photographers, and new job candidates perceive. The real essence of Google’s Cambridge operation is something you can’t see—or rather, something that you can only understand by listening to Vinter explain his personal strategy for replicating Google’s amazing global success on a local scale.

“Google has made a commitment to having distributed offices, meaning we have engineers across the globe,” says Vinter, whose official title is engineering director. “The key to making sure the satellite offices are as succesful as they can be is to figure out how you can get the best-motivated people in the local area.”

He’s found quite a few already. Google’s cramped Cambridge office has more than 100 employees, up from just a handful less than a year ago, and is still growing fast. It’s not clear exactly how fast—“We don’t talk about rates,” Vinter says. But the company’s real-estate deals may say something about its expansion plans. Google has hired a construction firm to renovate a reported 59,000 square feet on three floors at Five Cambridge Center, just down the street. That’s three times as much space as the company is currently leasing at One Broadway.

Google communications senior associate Erin Gleason confirms the renovation project, but says a move-in date hasn’t been announced. Google isn’t, of course, the only West Coast tech giant that’s in rapid-expansion mode in Kendall Square. Microsoft’s Reed Sturtevant, as Bob reported this morning, is preparing to staff up a special innovation group at One Memorial Drive, where Microsoft has taken a lease on about half of the 17-story tower, and networking leader Akamai just signed leases at Four and Eight Cambridge Center that will nearly double its Kendall Square footprint to 250,000 square feet.

For Google, filling up its new space will mean exploring every corner where talent is hiding. Vinter, true engineer that he is, goes to the whiteboard in the tiny conference room where we’re meeting and draws a box surrounded by bubbles and arrows. Boston is a fantastic setting for filling up the Google box, he explains, because there are so many bubbles around it: MIT, Harvard, BU, Brandeis, Northeastern, U Mass, and the other great schools churning out new graduates; a large ecosystem of high-tech firms employing ambitious programmers and scientists (and Vinter considers both information technology companies and biotechnology companies to be fair hunting grounds); graduates from other regions who want to move to the Northeast; and people already inside Google who want to do the same.

“There are not many places in the world with that collection of people, and with the attractiveness of Boston and its culture, and with great upward mobility for people in high-tech,” Vinter says.

But what do you put inside the Google box, to make sure people are happy and productive once they get there? You start with what Vinter calls “a complete compensation package,” including, of course, those coveted Google stock options. Then there’s the … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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