Google is different, even on a list of distinctive companies. But its employees still type their email one letter at a time. We may not understand precisely how Google's algorithms work, but we can understand how the people at Google do their work. Here, more than a dozen describe what life is like at a place where no goal is too audacious, agility means more than power, and even cafeteria food represents an opportunity to change the world.

"Google now has 1,000 times as many people as when I started, which is just staggering to me. What's remarkable, though, is what hasn't changed -- the types of people who work here and the types of things they like to work on."

Read more about Marissa Mayer

"The interviews here were -- how do I put this? -- very engaging. One of the questions was, 'If you could change the world using all of Google's resources, what would you build?' It set a strong tone for what was coming."

Read more about Jessica Ewing

"My first day, I got assigned to figure out how Google could launch Enterprise [applications for corporations] in Europe. It was like, 'Hey, New Guy, you don't know anything about our business yet, but here are some people who can help you. Go figure it out.' We launched in Europe a few months later."

Read more about Matt Glotzbach

"A lot of people in engineering at Google would be in research at other companies -- that's where all the PhDs usually are. This makes it difficult for those researchers to take an idea the whole way through the development process. Where does innovation happen at Google? It happens everywhere, because everybody does research."

Read more about T.V. Raman

"[In our ethnographic research] we followed people around for a day or so and watched how they used technology. Then we littered the walls with stories and observations on Post-it Notes. Those user stories went into a database that we shared with other teams. That's how we cross the silos."

Read more about Irene Au

"Once, when [CEO] Eric Schmidt met with a group of managers, I asked, 'Do you think we're taking enough chances?' He said, 'What do you think?' And I told him, 'I think I'm still being too safe. I'm not really taking advantage of the environment here.' It wasn't long after that that we started OpenSocial."

Read more about David Glazer

"Innovation is superfragile. It's like a flower in early spring, where just the wrong weather will kill it. It's very easy to kill, by having the barriers of entry too high, by requiring people to say yes to something. We try very hard to let people innovate sort of freely."

Read more about Douglas Merrill

"This is a place that has remarkably little structure. It certainly has a lot more structure than it probably did five years ago, or even two years ago, but it still has remarkably little. That means that anybody can come in and if they have good ideas, they can get things done."

Read more about Bill Weihl

"John Dickman, the brain trust behind food service, told us, 'This is your platform to educate and change things, not just here, but abroad. It's your time to make a difference, to change how the world works. You may never have a chance like this again in your life.' "

Read more about Josef Desimone

"At Google, there are rocks and a stream. You either become a rock, and the stream goes around you, or you get in the stream and move things along and start adding value. If you're open-platform, respectful of others, and really driven to execute, you'll be successful."

Read more about Tim Armstrong

"It's like a free market. People gravitate to projects that they think are exciting, and then they pour their hearts into them and work themselves to the bone because they are passionate about them."

Read more about Niniane Wang

"The majority of initiatives come from our Google population. It could be as simple as prayer and meditation rooms, or as ambitious as a companywide volunteer day. Our philosophy is providing all the great things you would have in a PhD or graduate program. That's how you're going to attract people who are interested in working in a collaborative environment."

Read more about Anne Driscoll

"The culture has been literally built for innovation and for engineers, with things like giving people 20% time to work on whatever they want. We're not told by some consultant who studies the market for six months and then says, 'Here's what the market wants.' We get an idea, launch quickly, and learn from the market."

Read more about Shannon Maher

"Google can't do everything. And we shouldn't. That's why we formed the Open Handset Alliance with more than 34 partners. Throwing software over the wall isn't going to work. You need handsets based on this software and carriers willing to ship them."

Read more about Andy Rubin

"We have the resources of talented and socially engaged Googlers. That's our greatest asset. One team [Android] told us they were going to announce $10 million in prizes for mobile apps, so we said 'Let's make some that benefit poor people in the developing world. Public-health apps. Economic-development apps.' Now we have the developer community building apps for Google.org."

Read more about Larry Brilliant

"It's remarkable how well companies reflect the values of the people who founded them. You can see [Thomas] Watson's DNA in IBM 50 years later. You can see Bill Gates in Microsoft 25 years later. I think 20 years from now, you'll see Larry and Sergey [cofounders Page and Brin] and Eric [Schmidt] in Google because they set the model: They're keen on innovation, they want analytic work, and they're nice guys."

Read more about Hal Varian

Fast Company

Meet the Googlers

Google is different, even on a list of distinctive companies. But its employees still type their email one letter at a time. We may not understand precisely how Google's algorithms work, but we can understand how the people at Google do their work. Here, more than a dozen describe what life is like at a place where no goal is too audacious, agility means more than power, and even cafeteria food represents an opportunity to change the world.

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