The San Francisco Experience: Touring Silicon Valley with Shane McAulay (1)

23/11/2015

As part of the Carat Scholarship experience, I was lucky enough to spend my final week visiting Silicon Valley, touring the headquarters of the world’s largest tech players. Seeing and hearing from these companies was my strongest motivator when selecting San Francisco, and needless to say they did not disappoint.

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Visiting the Google campus was first on my list and truth be told, there was a bit of a false start.
As detailed in my previous post, Silicon Valley is actually not that close to San Francisco – so I decided to rent a car one week in advance.

Due to a comedy of errors I had to postpone my scheduled tour, as I

  • Waited for 20 minutes to be served at the Car Rental company
  • Was refused car rental as I tourists cannot use a debit card to hire
  • Plan B - ordered an Uber
  • Waited for over 30 minutes due to road closures & heavy traffic
  • Running late at this point
  • Plan C - flagged a passing cab to get out of the city
  • Running very late and had to reschedule to a different day
  • Used said cab to get back into the city

I felt like I was a part of a Ben Stiller movie…

The Googleplex

My first tour was by far the largest in terms of scale. The campus is simply massive, with multiple plazas and parking lots with valet service. Even having read about the campus previously, it was still surprising to see the luxuries that Googlers enjoy. There is a big focus on sports & fitness with gyms, pools, Soccer fields, Volleyball courts and even a Roller Hockey arena. There are also over 30 cafeterias placed throughout the campus, along with numerous food stalls– including my favourite, a pop up Wood Fired Pizza oven.

What I did not expect to learn was that Google is dog friendly, with pets receiving an honorary Google Access pass – or that the company leases a nearby US military base for their research and development arm. However, what I found most interesting was the weekly all-hands TGIF meeting. Held on a Thursday to include all timezones, Google founders and executives provide candid updates on the company while employees at any level are encouraged to ask questions, present new ideas or discuss issues.

 

 

The Facebook Campus

My second tour was equally as impressive. Located at 1 Hacker Way - the Menlo Park campus is smaller but has a great atmosphere thanks to its Disney inspired design. I met with Rajan, the Strategy Lead on the Facebook Global Agency Team.

As part of the tour I was able to see the numerous art pieces, stores and restaurants throughout the campus. Valet and detailing services are offered in the car parks, while employees are able to enjoy lunch, ice cream and even haircuts free of charge. If they get bored, there are plenty of activities available including an incredible woodwork and screen printing workshop.

While enjoying an amazing lunch onsite, Rajan provided plenty of insight on how Facebook is working with agencies at a global level and the strength of the Dentsu Aegis relationship in particular. It was interesting to note that Facebook also hosts regular all-hands meetings in the main plaza, providing company updates and open discussion with employees.

Twitter HQ

My final tour involved an all-day session at the #InsideTwitter conference. Located on Market Street in the heart of San Francisco, we were given insight into the Twitter platform - and plenty of swag! We heard from numerous speakers throughout the day, including Jack Dorsey (CEO) and Adam Bain (COO) – providing updates on where Twitter is now, the direction it is headed in and upcoming products available to agencies.

We were also given the opportunity to workshop ways to use Twitter via smaller breakout sessions, learning how to generate campaign ideas, best practice for using the platform, how to measure success and even a deep dive into personal branding.

The Focus on People

My biggest take away from each of these tours was the clear focus on their people. Conversations at each were surprisingly frank about the churn in the industry, talking extensively about acquiring and retaining the right talent. They each had a focus on flatter, more fluid company structures with open communication and feedback channels. And most importantly, there was an extraordinary sense of trust and transparency.

There are an incredible amount of resources in place with the sole purpose of keeping staff happy and engaged. In doing so, Google, Facebook & Twitter have become the destination for the finest talent in the tech industry.

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