A Kiwi sits 'on the edge of tomorrow' at Google

US tech companies will work you hard, but the rewards are great and the corporate structure is flatter than in New Zealand, says expat

Josh Bailey’s Kiwi accent is barely detectable. The San Francisco-based employee of internet behemoth Google says if you don’t pronounce the letter R the American way “they won’t understand you”.

Bailey, who dropped out of school in the sixth form, is coy about his role at Google. He is a network engineer working with network-related software, but that is all he’s allowed to reveal, he said apologetically when Computerworld caught up with him in a quiet San Francisco café.

Bailey, thirty-ish, bright-eyed and soft-spoken, started working as a network technician after leaving high school.

“But after a while I realised that every day I would see people who would say ‘I pressed Print and nothing happened, I pressed Print again and nothing happened, then I pressed Print one more time and it printed three pages. Why is that?’ So I decided to go back to school,” he says.

He enrolled for a course at Victoria University in Wellington to study maths, but only lasted two months.

“I felt really intimidated by the whole situation,” he says.

Bailey says he felt his maths skills just weren’t good enough. At one point he thought “I could be doing this for the rest of my life and never get it right,” he says. So he left university and went back to his networking job.

He then became very interested in the emerging phenomenon of the internet, kept up to date with the developments in that area and got a job with Telecom when the company launched Xtra in the mid-1990s. He stayed with Xtra until headhunted by Ascend in 1997, where he became an expert on that company’s Max router.

“I got to know Maxes pretty well back at Telecom,” he says. “Ascend was looking for people in the region who knew the devices and knew the ISP environment generally. I was very fortunate in that I had a lot of ISP knowledge and at that time it was a very small industry by today’s standards.”

He took up his new role with Ascend in Melbourne, and, two years later, moved on to work at the company’s California office.

Ascend was later acquired by Lucent, and by that time Bailey had decided it was time to move on.

After having seen The Incredibles he applied for a job at Pixar. He was called to three interviews at the company, and the last one lasted for two days.

“That is what they do, they leave you in a room and then send people in that will just hammer you for days,” he says with a twinkle in his eye.

Bailey didn’t make it further with Pixar but was not discouraged. A couple of years ago he went to Sun Microsystems’ JavaOne conference in San Francisco, where he started talking to the people at Google’s stand. He applied for a job with the company but “fully expected never to hear back from them”, he says.

However, Google called and he was summoned for a series of interviews, which included solving problems under pressure and being put in very stressful situations, he says. This time he was successful.

Google is known for its employee perks such as unlimited amounts of free chef-prepared food at all times of day, a climbing wall, a volleyball court and two lap pools, according to a recent story in The New York Times.

Employees also enjoy onsite haircuts, free doctor checkups, car washes and oil changes, says the newspaper. But the biggest perk of all could be Google’s bus service, which Bailey uses.

The company ferries about 1,200 employees — nearly a quarter of its local work force — to and from Google headquarters daily aboard 32 shuttle buses equipped with wireless internet access, reports the newspaper. Dogs are allowed on the buses, and bicycles on exterior racks.

“The bus service is fantastic,” says Bailey. “I hardly drive at all.”

Bailey is not coming back to New Zealand in the foreseeable future, he says. To him, one of the benefits of living in the Bay Area is the “tech-friendly” culture.

“I’m definitely a city person, and San Francisco has so much diversity,” he says. “I’d be seen as too enthusiastic and too pushy if I went back to work in New Zealand,” he adds with a smile.

Work culture is different in New Zealand and the US, he says. You will be pushed to work long hours in the US, but the rewards are great and the corporate structure is flatter than in New Zealand.

“The tech companies will work you hard but the benefits are fantastic; you’ll have people behind you and resources available” he says. “Nobody here is afraid of hard work.”

Employees are encouraged to be innovative and come up with new ideas and managers will “more than likely” listen to your ideas and give you resources to go ahead with your project, he says.

“It doesn’t matter how senior a [manager] is, the door will always be open, that person will know who you are and will listen to you,” he says.

The sheer scale of the projects he works on also appeals to Bailey. He finds it rewarding to work on projects that will have millions of users.

“We are sitting on the edge of tomorrow and that suits my personality,” he says.

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