Computing students visit Google London

Cool lounge areas, jam sessions and seemingly endless intellectual stimulation - we visit Google London
Computing students at Google London
The group pictured outside Google London's lobby (Lex Holt pictured third from left)
I think one of the most exciting and far-reaching developments is basing Google search not just on words but on underlying models of the meaning of those words

Dr Sarah Rauchas and Dr Tim Taylor, the Deputy Programme Directors of our undergraduate computing programmes, visited the Google London offices today with a number of current computing students. The informal group visit was hosted by Lex Holt, a Technical Program Manager at Google.

Lex chatted about some of the products that engineering Googlers are currently working on, ranging from Android Google Search and YouTube Mobile to Google Play (formerly Android Market) and Google AdSense. He then showed the group a number of videos including Google’s latest wheeze, the self-driving car, and talked about some of the company’s top priorities including the increasing expansion of mobile technology, the development of semantic search and Google+.

Situated just one minute’s walk from Victoria station in Buckingham Palace Road, Google London is one of the company’s major European offices, employing hundreds of people from sales through to engineering. A whirlwind tour of the building took in the fully kitted out music room complete with electronic drum kit, keyboards and guitars galore where Googlers can bond over a jam session. The benches, flowerbeds and rowboats in the lounge areas – based on famous London parks – were a rather nice touch too.

Five minutes with Lex Holt

In your experience, what are the key transferable skills that Google looks for in their employees?
I would say problem-solving and the ability to think creatively. We also want people to be good at working with a wide variety of people – that aspect of team work is also important.

And do you think these are skills which distance learning students acquire?
Well, the ability to work under your own initiative is something that’s strongly valued at Google. This is not a very hierarchical, top-down company. People are expected to get on with things themselves, and indeed to find things to do that need to be done, without having to be told what to do. These are skills that we are absolutely interested in.

What’s the best thing about working for Google?
A lot of the satisfaction comes from doing things that are bigger than just you. That’s one of the nice things about being a project manager: I get to help make things happen that no single engineer could do by themselves. It’s fascinating and intellectually stimulating. I think I can say that these are the smartest people that I’ve ever worked with, whether at a university or any other place.

How often does Google tweak its search engine algorithm?
There are publicly available figures, but it’s something like over 500 changes in one year to the search algorithm, or aspects of it. So it’s changing all the time in subtle ways.

Is there one new development that Google is working on that you can tell us about?
I think one of the most exciting and far-reaching developments is basing Google search not just on words but on underlying models of the meaning of those words, so that Google understands something about the actual entities, people, organisations, things in the world that we talk about in search queries rather than just the words themselves.

Watch a video about Google’s Project Glass: