Google Is Hiring Again, Makes Bid to Be More Transparent to Seattle-Area Engineers

8/28/09Follow @gthuang

Last night, Google hosted a series of technology talks at its Fremont office in Seattle. The goal was to give the tech community a look at the core technologies and problems Google is working on in the Northwest—the first time Google Seattle has spoken publicly in detail about a number of projects it’s pursuing. Between its Seattle and Kirkland, WA, offices, Google has more than 500 employees here, making it one of the three largest outposts for the Internet giant outside of its Mountain View, CA, headquarters (the other two are in New York and Zurich, Switzerland).

Brian Bershad, Google’s Seattle site director, said the company has gone through a period of six or seven months of slowed growth (along with everyone else). But it has emerged from that and is hiring again. “We’re back in the mode where we’re looking for extremely strong talent,” Bershad said.

Three tech talks followed. I heard nothing earth-shattering, but Google provided an in-depth and unusually transparent look at how its local engineers are pushing the state of the art in the company’s key products. Some of this was clearly aimed at building relationships with the local technology talent pool. Here’s a brief recap:

—Stephen Adams, a staff software engineer, discussed his project on Web browser security. Like any browser, Google Chrome, which has 30 million users, needs periodic updates (software patches) to stay secure from viruses and other bugs. The problem is these patches are huge and take a lot of time and bandwidth to download. Adams figured out a clever way to reduce the size of a patch from 1 megabyte down to about 79 kilobytes (better than a factor of 10). Adams said he’s been going to Mountain View headquarters to work with the Chrome team on building the product, code-named “Courgette.”

—Peeyush Ranjan, engineering director for search, gave an overview of how his team is improving Google’s core search engine technology. One area they’ve been pushing is the freshness of search results—how to find and rapidly rank the importance of new Web pages as they come online. Another area is improving Google’s Hot Trends feature, which tells you the top rising queries in the search stream (terms like Hurricane Katrina or Apple iPhone). He also mentioned some future work in real-time search and push-based Web, but didn’t elaborate. Ranjan did say Google has a special team in Kirkland dedicated to pushing the state of the art in Web search.

—Chee Chew, engineering director for client and applications tools, talked about advances in desktop software and Web apps. He touched on Gmail tools—viewing attachments without having to download PowerPoint or PDF reader, and uploading groups of photos with one drag and click. Chew also showed a demo for a project on how to make it so adding video to the Web is as simple as adding an image.

Afterward, there were questions from the audience on how Google can make money on some of these products, and why it chose to go open-source for Chrome. “Let’s agree that Google is an Internet focused company” Chew said. “Our Internet apps are richer, faster, more robust. That helps our business model.” Bershad added that there are millions of paying Google Apps customers. Kirkland site director Scott Silver added that not every Google product has to make money.

As for the open source question, Bershad said, “Much of what we do, we want to see other companies pick up.” The best way to drive engineers to build valuable applications on top of existing platforms like Google’s, he said, is to “show them what you’re doing.”

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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