Wednesday, May 14, 2008

My Google NYC Visit

It's been almost two weeks since I left for New York City to pay Google a visit, but with the hectic schedule surrounding the mini-course, I haven't been able to write about it yet. Now that things have calmed down and I have some time to tell you all about it, I hope I can remember the fun little details!

For those that don't know, the reason I went to Google was for the Anita Borg Scholars' retreat. I was a finalist for the inaugural Canadian edition of the scholarship. There were 17 amazing Canadian women in total, four of whom were winners and 13 who were finalists. Google flew us to New York City to visit the Google offices and meet each other.

I was lucky enough to actually know another finalist from Carleton, Terri, so we flew together from the Ottawa airport early (like, 5am early) Thursday morning. When we got to La Guardia in New York, our driver was nowhere to be found. It turns out that he picked up another Carmichael on our plane that happened to get to him first (since she was also waiting for a driver, she just assumed he was the one). But eventually he came back for us and brought us to our super awesome Hotel Gansevoort.

Unfortunately, there weren't any rooms available for us yet (despite the promise to the retreat organizer, Jordan, that there would be). So Terri and I decided to walk around and see if we could figure out where Google was. When I found a building I saw in the street view for the Google address, we decided to explore inside.

We didn't see any signs for Google, so we figured this probably wasn't the right building (Google is actually housed in the Port Authority building across the street). No matter -- this building was very cool architecturally!

It was the old National Biscuit Company building (keeping mind that we were in the middle of the meat packing district of Manhattan), and the designers worked very hard to make it industrial and chic. The photo above shows water falling from a large pipe and highlighted with a glowing blue. There were benches made out of stone, large chunks of metal here and there, and many cool little food related shops. That last part may have had something to do with the fact that the Food Network also lived there.

Anyway, we eventually made it back to the hotel to find Jordan waiting for us in the lobby. We finally got our rooms, just in time to throw our stuff inside before brunch. This hotel was swank. When you walked into your room, they had this cool jazzy/house CD playing and the lights set up nicely. Even better, we each got our own room!

After brunch, we finally got to check out the Google offices. The day felt like it should be over by then, having been up at 4am, yet it was only noon! Being in the Google offices was, as you can imagine, pretty special. We spent a lot of our time in the Tech Talk room, which had a nice, informal feel to it. That, and random loud clanking noises from the huge elevator on the other side of the wall. Apparently the floor used to be a bus repair center, so that elevator could carry cars and buses. But I digress.

We had several talks from some really interesting Google folks (mostly women, but some men, too). I think it would be best to save info about those for future posts, or else this one will be too long for anyone to want to read!

On Thursday night, we were treated to a dinner at the Spice Market, a cool little restaurant almost right beside our hotel. Instead of us ordering what we wanted, they just kept bringing all the food on the "menu" to the table for everyone to share. It wasn't totally my style of food, but I found enough to eat, and the atmosphere was pretty cool.

We had about four or five hours of free time on Saturday afternoon to do the tourist thing. Not much time to cram in so much sight-seeing! A few of us cabbed up to Ground Zero to see the progress there. I hadn't ever seen the area with the towers there, so technically I didn't know the difference. However, it was painfully obvious that there was something missing, based on the entire block of blankness among rows and rows of very tall buildings. Very strange.

Then, after getting lost in some train system that wasn't the subway like we thought, we eventually found the real subway and made it to Central Park. It's an odd feeling walking into such a vast area of greenery after being bombarded with concrete for a couple of days. Even more odd when you consider that, back home, a little green space is certainly not rare!

We didn't have much time to walk around, so we just took a quick look and then walked through the monstrosity that is Times Square. I wish we had more time to look into the giant Toys R Us with the ferris wheel inside, or maybe Madame Tussuad's. Alas, if we were going to make it back in time for the boat cruise, we would only be able to rush along the main drag. I guess you could say we were scouting what to see the next time we found ourselves in New York ;)

The last big event of the retreat was the boat cruise that went... well, I'm not really sure where it went exactly, but I do know we circled the Statue of Liberty! That thing is a whole lot smaller than you would expect, that's all I can say.

To conclude, I just want to reiterate how awesome this retreat was, and how amazingly amazing the group of scholars and Google organizers really were. I think that this will be just a beginning for us. If we were able to do such great things on our own, imagine what we can do now that we have each other as advisers, mentors, and friends!

(P.S. I forgot my bathing suit in my hotel room, where it was drying. So if you happen to stay in room 702....)


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