Monday, July 29, 2013

The Path to a Google Internship

I think one of the biggest misconceptions is that the path to an internship at Google is a linear progression.  That it happens just the way the recent Vince Vaughn/Owen Wilson movie made it seem: you apply, you interview, you're reviewed by a hiring committee and then you're either made an offer or rejected.  In reality, it's a lot more complicated than that, and Google is no exception.  There is a traditional progression, yes, but if Google only recruited traditionally, I wouldn't be an intern here.

The traditional path for a software engineering internship starts with submitting your application.  A recruiter reviews your resume, and then chooses whether or not you seem like a good candidate.  If you're a strong candidate, they offer you phone (or on-campus) interviews, and then based on the outcome of these, you enter a Google-specific process called 'host-matching.'  The idea at Google is that you aren't just offered a generic internship; they set you up with a Googler who matches your skills and interests and then you're offered that particular internship.  This is a tough process because even after passing your interviews, there is no guarantee of being chosen by a host.

I had a different path.  I submitted my application (more than once, I'm not embarrassed to a
dmit) and never heard anything.  At the time I was interviewing for another internship, and figured that Google wasn't interested;my resume is pretty design heavy, and struggles to gain traction with software companies.  However, when I heard they were holding an interview prep talk at my school, I knew I wanted to go and see what I would have to do to get a Google internship.  At the talk, they asked for volunteers for a mock interview and a couple of my friends went up; at some point, I decided that I wanted to volunteer if only because it might be the one time I could practice a real Google interview
A Google talk at Penn

At that point in the workshop, they were doing ‘Project Manager’ mock interviews, and considering I only had a vague idea of the job description, I struggled a little.  I worked through an application design problem, and as I left the stage, the engineer who was running the workshop shook my hand.  The next morning I woke up, and had an email that I had been given one of the coveted on-campus interview slots the following week.

I had been studying for almost two months at that point: I knew the space-time complexities of all the sorting algorithms by heart, I had been spending most free evenings doing algorithms homework since it was homework and also studying, and I had already finished four interviews with two other companies (one of which made me an offer, and one of which didn't).  By the time I walked into the on-campus interviews, I knew that preparation wouldn't be the reason I didn't get the internship.

I was nervous.  I typically wear dresses and skirts, but I knew Google respected casual dress so I wore a t-shirt.  I sat in a waiting room for far too long, my nerves completely on end, making far too many jokes that only a few of the other nervous potentials laughed at.  My first interview went really well; my interviewer gave me a question I had never seen, but was something I really understood.  I solved it quickly, and then blurted out the complexity before she asked.  She quickly made it harder and I almost begged to stay in the interview because I had just figured out the trick when it ended and I wanted to prove that I could code it.

A 2am study session for
my Google interview
My second interview was completely different.  When I walked in, the engineer immediately presented me with a question that relied entirely on a fact (not a concept, luckily) I hadn't memorized.  I knew how to solve the problem, but wouldn't have been able to write the details of a necessary helper function.  I explained how I would solve the problem, wrote out the code with the helper function and then when the time came to code the helper function, confessed that I would normally have to Google the information because I didn't know it offhand.  He then quickly gave me the information I needed and I wrote the helper function.  At the end of the interview, he asked me a few questions concerning my interest in Google, and then we discussed an algorithm I had learned in class.  I hadn't met anyone else (besides my algorithm’s professor and my homework buddy) who thought it was cool enough to talk about for ten minutes.

What I didn't know at the time of these interviews was that the engineer on stage, at that original talk, had been impressed that I had gone up, liked the way I approached problems, and had checked to make sure I got an interview. The week after I heard back that I had passed my interview, my recruiter told me that I had had six host matchings.  That meant six phone interviews, with six managers, all of whom were interested in the fact that someone who had such a significant art background had passed the technical interviews.  The skills that had originally caused me to struggle to get an interview were suddenly my greatest asset.  When the fifth interviewer called, he introduced himself; it was the engineer from the workshop.  We talked for a few minutes, he asked me a quick coding question which I first solved and then we discussed, we talked about my interests, and hung up.  The next morning, I had an offer in my inbox.  He chose me because I had taken a chance and put myself out there at a talk; he gave me an opportunity to prove that I could be a software engineer because of my willingness to try new things.  And because I had done all the work leading up to it, in studying for interviews, I was able to show him I could be a computer scientist.

There’s a lot of different stories of how people have gotten a Google interview and offer, and a lot of the time people tell me how unbelievably lucky I am when I tell them my story.  I think, what’s wonderful about Google and how you get an internship at this company, is to simply stop caring about trying to be what they are looking for.  I love art and I love computer science.  Most companies think that means I won’t be as dedicated an engineer.  I asked Google to give me a chance, and Google let me prove to them that my love of design makes me a better one.

That’s the end of my story.  It’s not a traditional pathway to an internship at Google, but I think it gives a good side to the interview process; it’s not always about how beautiful your resume is, or what your GPA says.  Sometimes it’s about making eye contact and taking a chance that you might look stupid, just to prove that there’s more to you than can be seen in a first impression.  And I think that’s something I would describe as very ‘Google-y.’

On a side note, but in the vein of talking about internships, I want to mention one of the things I find most interesting about Google, is that they have two programs geared towards younger college students.  This is not something I have seen at other major companies, and feel is something pretty amazing that Google offers.

Freshman Engineering Practicum:
I really wish I had known about this program: it's geared towards CS (or CS intending) freshmen.  It's a fantastic opportunity to get a major internship on your resume early on in your education.  It also helps to prepare you for further opportunities at Google, which as a current intern, I wish I had been able to take advantage of at that age.

Engineering Practicum:
This is similar to FEP, only geared towards sophomores.  It's practically identical to the SWE internship I am doing, and many of my friends here at the office are EP interns.  The main differences involve more social activities among the group of EP interns, classes to help teach coding skills, and a strong support system.

If you know anyone who is eligible for these, or are eligible yourself, check them out!
(Countdown to completion: 19 days)


  1. It's Amazing that Google treats each Intern as a diferent person, taking the time to match you with someone you can feel comfortable with. Congratulations for the great experience you are living.

  2. Thanks for sharing :)
    I watched this video about the first week of an intern at Google .. if that'S true, I want to be an intern at Google for the rest of my life !!

  3. That's a fantastic video! I was actually at MTV last week and met a few of the interns in the video! I'll be posting about my trip this week, so if you're interested in the MTV campus, stay tuned. :)

  4. What has been your background before you applied at Google? You mentioned you had an art background but you describe algorithms and helper functions that a CS major I would assume know. I am encouraged by your story and hope you have great success!

  5. I am a Digital Media and Design major at the University of Pennsylvania; It's a Bachelor's of Science and Engineering in computer science with a focus on computer graphics and fine arts. I'm a fine arts minor, and a lot of my free time I spend doing design-centric activities which means my resume reads very differently than the average applicant. It's a cool program because it lets students bridge the gap between art and computer science, and a lot of my in-major friends are working as project managers or in user experience for tech companies.

  6. Great post, Samantha! That picture of you studying looks very familiar to what I am currently doing. I've been studying since May and have about 1.5 months until the interview season starts, so your story was very inspiring to say the least:) Congratulations on your internship! I hope you end it with a bang!

  7. hello, i am so glad i found this web page. i have always wanted to intern with Google. cant wait to start my internship... fingers crossed

  8. Thanks for sharing this post Samantha !! Glad to see Google living up to the name they have made for themselves... Wish you the best of luck for your internship !

  9. So much to learn in such little time. What did you like the most in your internship that you could share with us?

  10. Hello this was a beautifully written piece and really inspired me for my interview! :D I don't know if you still answer questions but which internship did you apply to and what year of college were you in?

  11. Engineering stuff and techniques that you mentioned on your blog are awesome. Being a electrical Engineer I really enjoy your all posts and learn a lot not only Electrical engineering knowledge but others technologies and tools as well.
    Love from EDesk