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École Polytechnique students visit Google

On Thursday, 21 May, 2015, about 20 École Polytechnique students visited Google Paris. They had a heavy schedule, including several meetings with alumni, an 18-minute marshmallow challenge and a presentation of the Google Cultural Institute.

Students working on getting their marshmallow as high as possible, © École polytechnique, J. Barande

“I intend to work on Big Data technologies, and I would very much like to do my research internship at Google!” “I like data science, and I could see myself working in the US for Google in a few years.” “It is a very attractive company, I cannot wait to hear what the alumni have to tell us!” Ana Maria, Junlin and Côme were all very eager to visit Google Paris on Thursday, 21 May, 2015. Organized by the corporate connections’ department at l’X, those visits are an opportunity for students to discover companies which interest them, for an internship or for their career.

After a short presentation of Google Paris, which opened in 2004 and now has about 600 employees, among which approximately 100 engineers, École Polytechnique students were immediately immersed in the spirit of the company: Vincent Simonet, software engineering manager, asked them to participate to a marshmallow challenge. The task is simple: in eighteen minutes, teams must build the tallest free-standing structure out of 20 sticks of spaghetti, one yard of tape, one yard of string, and one marshmallow, which needs to be on top. The students had fun trying various approaches, and discussed afterwards why this challenge can relate to the work done at Google: it stresses the importance of team work, of the iterative process, of refining a prototype, all within a limited timeframe.

The students were then invited to discover "Le Lab" of the Google Cultural Institute, set up in Paris in December 2013. Its unique team at Google works with the cultural sector to develop technologies to make the world's culture accessible to anyone, anywhere. Technologies include a platform bringing online more than 6 million documents, an art camera to scan art pieces in extraordinary pieces and many more. Inside, the star attraction is a 65 m2 wall, made of 48 black screens, which come to life with artpieces: the students were thus shown tiny details of Marc Chagall's famous ceiling for the Opéra Garnier in Paris which even the most fervent fans of ballet or opera could not have noticed before - including Marc Chagall's second son himself, who knew that there was a representation of him inside the painting but had not found it until he discovered the masterpiece on this wall. Behind this very attractive façade is a data center and a laboratory where engineers are creating the tools to further digitalize the art world.

Camille Lamy (X2008) and Raphaël Marinier (X2005), two alumni working as engineers at Google, © École polytechnique, J. Barande

Meetings with alumni were also organized for the students: they met four alumni working in business organization in the morning, and three others working in the tech departments in the afternoon, who were all very enthusiastic about their experience at Google. François Stérin (X97), Director of Global Infrastructure, underlined the fact that Google is a "very international company": indeed, he spent the last ten years working for Google in California, London and Paris, and he appreciates this mobility. Camille Lamy (X2008), Software Engineer, confirmed that the company is highly internationalized - she mostly works with teams based in the US so she has a lot of emails to read in the morning! - and that it is interesting to be able to work on various projects.
Innovation and autonomy are highly favored, and Guillaume Duteil (X2003), Commercialization Manager, reminded the students that the saying "Never fail to fail" is very much true at Google. Gaël Gibert (X2002), Business Development Manager and Head of User Experience & Analytics Lab, likes both the colleague and the working conditions: "I can easily get bored in my jobs, but here, each quarter is different, we are always in movement and we do not stay in our comfort zone".

Students enjoying video games at Google Paris, © École polytechnique, J. Barande

As for the excellent working conditions, the students were able to experience them first-hand: they had lunch with the alumni at the Google cafeteria, which offers a very wide choice of food, and discovered a great atmosphere in collective spaces. At every corner, Googlers can grab free drinks, fresh fruits or biscuits, and they have access to all kinds of amenities to relax and exchange: pool games, babyfoot, video games... École Polytechnique students tried them as well, to fully experience the Google spirit!