If you ask yourself which company you would love to work for in 5 years, I am pretty sure Google will undoubtedly make your top 5 list. But, realistically, what are the chances? For many of us, Google is merely a distant dream, but thanks to a collaboration with NIMS, a few lucky BSI associates had the chance to spend the afternoon at Google’s headquarters in Milan and got a taste of what it would be like to work for such a unique and revolutionary company.
The “innovative” label is something many companies nowadays aspire or claim to have; indeed, the word has become almost cliché. But, if there is a company which can be considered genuinely innovative, I think we would all agree that it would be Google. Proof of that being, the opening speech by Umberto Poschi, Head of Data Science and Business Analytics, was all about how innovation is fostered at Google, through every little thing that they do. “Google is a company in which innovation happens by default, not by accident” he stressed. To get his point across, he showed everyone a drawing of how the world would look like in 100 years, from the perspective of his 9-year old child. In the picture figured flying cars and houses held up in the stratosphere. The child was no Picasso, but he was very confident and proud of his ideas. In line with the unconventional nature of the company, the guests were given a paper and a pen and were asked to do a sketch of the person sitting next to them. When the dreadful moment to share sheets came, their reactions were very different. Everyone was embarrassed and started laughing. This is how the majority of adults would behave. By growing up we somewhat lose that courage to hold on tight to our ideas, no matter how absurd they may seem, and work towards making them happen. At Google they look for exactly this. Googlers (what employees working at google are called) go for wild ideas and share them fearlessly with their Google counterparts, just as children would do.
To achieve something great, the first question we must ask ourselves is “What if?”. In 1998, the founders of Google embarked on a very ambitious mission, asking their version of “What if?” as “What if we organize the world information and make it accessible and useful to everyone?” It might still sound quite impossible but setting the bar high is what motivates everyone at Google to wake up in the morning and come to work.
Another key principle embraced by the company is the so-called “Default to open” meaning it is of primary importance for Googlers to incessantly share ideas. Every Friday an open question and answer session takes place called “TGIF”, where anyone in the company can ask questions openly to Google’s founders and the CEO in a cafeteria in Mountain View. This is an extremely empowering tool, because not only it shows the commitment of the CEO to be part of the company but also underlines the fact that at Google every idea is equally valuable. When it comes to sharing, trust is the most necessary factor. Everyone has the responsibility to be proactive and give critical feedback. Rather than destroying other’s ideas, what’s vital is to build on them by saying “Yes, and” instead of listing reasons why that idea might not work. Something which we would all like to avoid is “failure”. But what Mr. Poschi underlined is that failure is part of the process. The most successful products have come after tons of fiascos. This is because even if you fail, for sure you will learn something. The important thing is to never give up and engage in “optimistic thinking”, holding on to the belief that sooner or later you will succeed. This culture is really empowering and drives innovation in all sectors of the company.
The second part of the presentation was led by Giorgio Sajeva, Principal Data Scientist and Business Analytics Manager. Today, we are in the midst of change, what some have called the Second Machine Age. Science and technology are showing us the big open problems we have to come face-to-face with, but it also giving us the tools to solve them. One such tool is the trending term Artificial Intelligence. Most of us interact with AI on a day to day basis. Just think about the last time you watched your favourite series on Netflix – AI gathers data on your frequently watched shows to direct your attention to new shows you haven’t watched previously, even matching the percentage of you liking it! AI is not new, but Google has the computer power to run deep neural networks and completely reinvent some of its products.
At the very core of AI is machine learning, which is the science of getting a computer to solve something without any programmable rule to reach the solution, just by training it. Machine learning has all sorts of useful applications: classification, prediction, generation, and understanding, just to mention a few. Mr. Sajeva explained that in order to make this technology evolve with Google, they follow a “Focus on the user approach,” which means the consumer is at the centre of any new idea or project they launch. The challenge is that nowadays consumers are becoming much more curious, impatient and demanding. We have access to an avalanche of information coming from every direction and are becoming more and more research obsessed. We want people to answer our doubts immediately and recognize our tastes, our name, our hobbies, and what we would like to eat. The one-to-one relationship with the brand is becoming of primary importance. We are essentially living in an “age of assistance”, in which consumers expect to be assisted whenever they want and if this doesn’t happen they get frustrated and switch to one of the million other options available. This means that there is a huge potential for businesses to improve.
How is Google engaging with this new age? Google is offering products and services which feed exactly this new behaviour of consumers. For example, Google Assistant can interact with you in a natural language and respond to commands or questions, Google Lens can identify objects such as QR codes, signals of restaurants, flowers, and put them into context to provide relevant information, Google translate has recently added real time translation for 13 new languages, Google maps can allow you to reach any place and predict traffic.
Mr. Sajeva emphasized that it all starts from data. Every company is or will become a data company. The crucial point is to understand how to interpret this data and use it to predict consumer behaviour and interact with them in the best possible way. Data companies are 3x more likely to report significant improvements in decision making which is needed to lead through digital disruption. Nevertheless, many companies are still struggling to use this data appropriately. This is because they are not updated or appropriately integrated, so they face difficulties in linking the data. They may also lack the organizational capacity and have limited recruitment skills. On average 90% of companies in Europe are in the middle level of digitalization, with only 2% having reach the multi-moment phase. In order to reach maturity, they have to “set the foundations” by understanding current data and implementing analytics, “build connections” by automating message deliveries and embedding expert skills, and “make every moment matter” by adopting agile teaming, insourcing key capabilities and automating data. Studies show that moving towards the ultimate multi-moment step results in higher revenues and lower costs. We have the appropriate technology to move to this step, the issue is how to use this technology to get more advanced, both from an organizational and marketing point of view.
What Google is essentially doing is helping companies move to this multi-moment step of digitalization by democratizing artificial intelligence and making it accessible to everyone. This is in line with Google’s fundamental belief that everyone in tech is working on something that can potentially change the world. One of the most heart-warming parts of the presentation was without doubt the closing video about a high school kid, Abu, who taught himself to code and created an app that uses machine learning to diagnose breast cancer. Here is the link if you’re curious to watch it: Abu’s story .
A brief Q&A session followed in which students clarified any doubts and got crucial insights on Google’s recruitment process. On surface level, we know Google is probably more technologically efficient than the rest of its competitors, but by attending this company visit, associates could see the crucial elements that went in to the process of making Google the giant that it is today – such as their innovation-nurturing company culture and their democratization of AI and machine learning. All in all, Google’s in-company visit was an amazing experience which allowed BSI members to get an inside look of what it feels like to work at Google and maybe one day, work there for real.
By: Anna Martinelli