Anand Rangarajan joined Google in 2008, at its headquarters in Mountain View, California. For the next five years, he worked on Gmail and YouTube. When he moved to Bangalore (he works on Search products now), many looking to relocate from the United States couldn't stop asking him about the difference between the headquarters and Bangalore, a city with Google India's largest engineering presence.
We asked him the same question. He has a well rehearsed answer.
Working in Google, Bangalore, is not representative of working in either Bangalore or India, he says. "Once inside Google, it is tremendously similar. In both the places, we hire extremely motivated people, those who have high cognitive ability. The temperature in the workplace is the same; the meeting rooms have the same decor; we have the same professionalism. In both the places, people use data for making choices, use logic. The two places are similar in culture, in the way we build products, argue about things, get launch approvals, launch products. It is true that I get way more delicious Indian food here than in the US. It is also true that there are many more Indians working here than in the US," he quips.
Google's culture, Rangarajan argues, makes it a different company to work for. Prior to 2008, he had worked for companies of different sizes, including a company that employed 10 people. "Google is a very large company. But it still remains a conglomeration of several groups which are start-up-ish, which have big goals to achieve," he says.
The culture is that of empowerment; Googlers are pushed - not to make incremental improvements but achieve ambitious targets. In the pecking order of Business Today's 'Best Companies to Work For', Google has been No. 1 for many years. Its aura hasn't faded because it has been consistent in its message of thinking big and empowerment. Rajan Anandan, Vice President, South East Asia and India, Google, calls this "empowerment at scale".
"I have not felt so much flatness, so much empowerment as in other companies. There have been many times in other companies where we had to ask permissions up the chain. Here you are on your own," Rangarajan says. "There is also a lot more critical questioning and critical arguments in this company. This really comes from the founders saying that our big goal is to work on 10X problems, large-scale problems. Don't do small changes."
Empowerment often translates into motivation. Chat with a few Googlers and it is clear that most of them are driven by the large user problems they are trying to solve. This is an extraordinary facet of Google's culture.
Anal Ghosh is Senior Program Manager at Google Maps in Hyderabad. He leads Maps efforts specific to Indian users. These include the two-wheeler mode in Maps and the landmark-based navigation, among others.
"Google Maps is one of the fastest growing products in India. We develop a lot of features in India first and we have seen how they scale up globally. The two-wheeler mode was launched in India in December 2017. Within a year, we expanded the feature to countries in South East Asia - Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, etc," Ghosh says. "Being able to solve these products and impact people in their daily life, that's my motivation to work here. There is this passion to solve problems. People want to understand user problems and build products based on that," he adds.
Apart from motivation, Ghosh points to the supportive culture at Google. Three months after he joined Google India, he had a family emergency, which required him to be in Kolkata, his hometown, for a long period. "I ended up taking more leaves than what I had. My colleagues stepped up to do my projects and ensured I could focus on my personal emergency. That is what established my faith in Google," he says.
Jayashri Ramamurti, HR Leader at Google India, says the company's focus has been to ensure that "Googlers are able to bring their whole self to work". She qualifies this statement by saying that it is no longer possible to compartmentalise a Googler's life into professional and personal. "We need to be able to ensure that their roles as mothers or parents or daughters and sons need to be addressed. This plays out in the kind of benefits we offer," she says. "In the last one year, child care was a big focus in India. It is also acknowledging that employees could go through tough times in their lives like the illness of a loved one. How do we support them in those kinds of situations?"
From a human resources policy perspective, Ramamurti also stresses on ensuring a culture of respect and inclusion at the workplace. "People come from all kinds of backgrounds. They need to fit in seamlessly," she says. "It is about making sure they express their opinion respectfully. We want people to express their opinions. Googlers have strong opinions. We hire very smart people," she adds.
There is no easy fix to integrating all these different strands of culture in an employee. It is done gradually, over a period of time. When employees join the company, respect and inclusion is a big part of the message that is communicated. Subsequently, there are town halls and workshops; quick sessions that reinforce the message. Employees at a good company to work for must agree to disagree respectfully.