MOUNTAIN VIEW, California. Amidst all the free food and other goodies that come with a job at Google Inc., there’s one benefit a lot of employees don’t even know about: a cluster of high-tech workshops that have become a tinkerer’s paradise.
Workers escape from their computer screens and office chairs to weld, drill and saw on expensive machinery they won’t find at Home Depot.
Besides building contraptions with a clear business purpose, Google employees use the shops for fun: They create elaborate holiday decorations, build cabinets for their homes and sometimes dream big like the engineers working on a pedal-powered airplane with a 100-foot wingspan.
The “Google Workshops” are the handiwork of Larry Page, who co-founded Google with Sergey Brin in a rented garage. Page authorized the workshops’ opening in 2007 to try to reconnect the company with its roots.
Google, which has kept the workshops under wraps until Tuesday, gave The Associated Press an exclusive tour shortly after Page reclaimed his original job as CEO on April 4.
The workshops offer a peek into ways Page may try to make the Internet giant work with the verve and creativity of a garage-bound entrepreneur. Page believes the 13-year-old company needs to return to thinking and acting like a feisty startup as it faces competition from younger Internet stars such as Facebook, Twitter and Groupon.
“There is a feeling here at Google that all good things start in a garage,” said Greg Butterfield, an engineering lab manager who oversees the workshops. “Larry wanted to create the same kind of environment he and Sergey had when they started Google — a sort of a playground or sandbox for pursuing their ideas.”
Enter the Google Garage, a space that according to Program Manager Mamie Rheingold serves as a “commons where Googlers can come together from across the company and learn, create, and make.”
“We packed in way too many people into this space, they were literally elbow to elbow,” she says. “What happened was they kind of just had to collaborate. If you can’t ignore the person next to you, you might as well collaborate with them.”
“The environment influences human behavior,” says Frederik Pferdt, Global Program Manager for Innovation and Creativity. “So if you want to encourage creativity, and wild ideas, and moonshot thinking, you should create that exact environment that helps you achieve that.”