“This word can be used in Lisp or in Python to create an anonymous function,” a trivia master called out at about 10:30 a.m. Saturday at an event headed up by Google’s University Programs Team, a recruitment arm. Far from any pub quiz or even a Jeopardy clue, it was part of the Google Games, held for the first time in New York, and the participants were some 150 students from the New York area (Princeton, Columbia, Stony Brook, Penn, and Rutgers were all represented).
Students competed for Google’s prizes. Google competed for the students’ affections in a way that was as obvious as the answer to the quiz question about a word used to create an anonymous function in Lisp or Python. “Lambda.” Duh.
“I don’t see this as reflecting Google culture. I see it as a thinly veiled recruiting event,” said Eddy Ferreira, a Princeton junior and member of the team Nucleon, which came in second on Saturday. Google had sent out word of the events a few weeks before. “I feel like I received it on at least three different mailing lists,” Ferreira said.
Hard sell or not, Ferreira and his fellow team members all agreed it was fun. The overarching goal of the day was to earn pieces of a Lego car; the first team to build the car and submit it would win. To earn Lego pieces, teams participated in that round of “geek trivia” (questions also treated Settlers of Catan, Family Guy, and Harry Potter), as well as spatial reasoning puzzles and coding competitions. Team Nucleon’s only apparent complaint about the day was that the puzzles, which had been written by Google engineers, were a tad easy.
That was a sentiment shared, naturally, by the winning team, Chicken Magnetic, also of Princeton. Team member Michael Sobin said of the puzzles: “They could have been a little harder.” One of them, a word puzzle involving swear words, was particularly easy. Then again, chimed in team member Jeff Hodes, maybe their team had just gotten lucky.
“Every puzzle has a little trick….” explained Hodes. “Frank, remember when you guessed ‘Java reserve words’ in three seconds?”
“Yeah,” said team member Frank Xiao.
Another team spent about 30 minutes before they had the same insight, said Hodes.
He was being modest. After a few moments, his team was called up for their prize: Android smartphones. Chicken Magnetic distributed the day’s spoils among the group, together with high-fives.
But the day wasn’t about winning or losing, went the mantra, it was about having fun. I spoke with Code Racks, a team from Rutgers that didn’t place, but that won the team spirit award for their red uniforms and general good cheer. They were named “Racks” for the first initials of each team member’s name, explained Chris Ghanem, and “Code” because, well, they were coding.
Did the team feel that Google had been recruiting them hard that day?
Ruell Brown said that it had just seemed like a fun way to spend a day, until journalists had started to ask that question. “I kind of like that we didn’t know it was a recruiting event,” said Ghanem. Becca Ginsberg, of Google’s PR team, had wandered over, and chimed in to the effect that it wasn’t all about recruiting. “We consider it a ‘soft’ recruiting event,” she explained. A similar event was taking place that day in Cambridge; in past years, Google Games events had been held at the main campus in Mountain View, California.
The students differed on their opinions on whether the event reflected the “real” Google or not. Eddy Ferreira fairly chafed at the question. “It’s a bunch of college students doing puzzles. That’s not what Google is like.” He said he felt closer to seeing the real Google when he accidentally got sent to the fourth floor, which was dark and empty. “It was kind of disappointing. There weren’t dispensers of free things in the lobby,” he said, with what may have been dry wit or what may have been simple strict literalness. “I’ve already formed my opinion of Google,” he added. “It’s a good opinion.”
Would they be seeking jobs at Google?
No, said Nucleon’s Arman Suleimenov immediately. Too big, too many inefficiencies. He was much more interested, he said, in working at a startup.
His team then went up to collect the prizes for the runners-up: a tote bag full of Google swag.
[Front page/thumbnail image from last year’s Cambridge Google Games: goog.students on Picasa]
- Most Innovative Companies: Google
- Inside Foursquare’s Hack-a-thon: How Unleashing a Gang of Geeks Benefits Business