Google talk: What I learned on my tour at Context 2015
Google talk: What I learned on my tour at Context 2015

Regular readers of this blog have, presumably, developed a certain tolerance for my occasional high-octane nerd enthusing. Rest assured: that’s not where I’m trying to go with this one.

It’s true that when I toured Google Pittsburgh on Tuesday night as part of the CMU Create Lab‘s Context Conference, I thought I’d gone to geek heaven. Or if not heaven, at least a somewhat indulgent programmer’s playground.

It’s a pretty cool place, it’s fair to say. It makes me terribly sad that I wasn’t allowed to take my own photos and that I have to settle instead for referring you to these.

But I think there’s something very sober and mature about the whole setup as well. Anyone who thinks Google just throws a bunch of luxurious or sophomoric perks at young engineers to recruit the best of the best does not have the full picture.

It was clear from the tour (and the staff’s explicit confirmation) that the whimsical working environment is as intricately designed as the company’s latest software offerings. The built-in message is this:

We like you. We trust you. We believe you will be more creative and productive if you are comfortable, playful, well-fed, self-motivated, and able to immerse yourself in your work.

And most of all, we want you to work together. Constantly. We want you shouting out questions and stumbling upon impromptu consultation sessions and constantly hitting the conference rooms to jump on a Google Hangout with your collaborators in other time zones.*

 I sometimes get frustrated that I don’t have an office I can hide in when things get busy, so I asked our previously-self-employed tour guide what it’s like working in the most open of open plan workspaces.

“It took some getting used to,” he said. “But it really does force you to collaborate.”

If there’s one ministry lesson that has seeped its reluctant way in to my thick skull during three years of full-time ministry, it’s that when I get stuck, I need to talk to somebody. That doesn’t mean I always want to though—so it can be good for me to be forced to collaborate too.

I’ll have more to say about the Context Conference in subsequent posts, including more on the spirit of partnership that pervades this innovative community of educators. What I learned at Google is how important it is to invite that spirit into my work space.

*I was delighted to learn that our guide seemed to have no idea whether or not Google Hangouts were yet available to the public, at least under that name.

Kyle Matthew Oliver (@kmoliver) sometimes forgets he trained as an engineer but couldn’t be more grateful for the ways that experience has shaped his ministry.

Kyle at Google Pittsburgh

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