Thursday, August 15, 2013

ANU Graduates Talk About Working at Google

Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra, where graduate Nigel Tao is talking about his work on software development at Google. Each year Google visits the ANU campus to recruit computer science graduates.

Unlike many corporate recruiting campaigns, this has a local flavor by alumni of the university who work in Google's Sydney office. Google recruits graduates with degrees in computer science, commerce and/or business. The staff in Sydney undertake development of Google software, as well as product support. There is a special Australia Students Google jobs page. Google have an interesting approach to staff selection, where after the preliminaries are dealt with by human resources staff the applicant is interviewed by phone or on-line by engineers.

Nigel started by pointing out that in his daily work he spent a lot of time reading, both text and other people's computer code. At the end of each day he posted a quote of the day on the internal Google+ system. The quotes were designed to make a point short and succinctly as well as be entertaining.

Nigel talked about Google Wave which he worked on, but was one of Google's failures as a product. Wave was technically very sophisticated, but too much so to be popular. I attended several Wave seminars with the developers and found it very hard to use. Google is one of the few large companies which is willing to admit when it makes a mistake, learns and moves on. I assume the Google+ is the replacement for Wave: it is much simpler, less sophisticated and moderately successful.

One of the much smaller scale problems Nigel mentioned was the lack of consistency with how an end of line is indicated on computer systems. This can be incited by CR, CRLF, LF. These characters are hangovers from the early days of computing with mechanical teletypewriters, which had one code "Carriage Return" (CR) to return the printing head to the start of the line and " line feed" to  move the paper up one line. Different computer makers used one, the other, or both of these characters to indicate the end of a line of input text, which to this day causes problems of comparability.

Nigel mentioned the Apple Newton MessagePad an early 1990s hand held computer which failed as a product and was ridiculed in the press, cartoons and comics (but was the forerunner of the Apple iPhone). He pointed out that it is easy to see something wrong in retrospect.

Nigel pointed out that software engineers don't like to do documentation.

Nigel's talk was entertaining and contained much more credible content about IT than the average corporate presentation.

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