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May - 2006 - issue > Company Profile
20% Time
Imran Shahnawaz
Wednesday, May 3, 2006
Meet Arvind Jain, a soft-spoken computer scientist, who is the proud owner of some interesting career turns. Two years ago, he walked away from a successful company to become an individual at Google. Why? Just to grab the opportunity to dream big. And Google offered him this opportunity. Today, Jain is the Center Head, Google Research and Development (R&D), Bangalore. Google Labs across the world encourage their engineers to spend 20 percent of their time to pursue personal projects they are passionate about.

For one day a week, they can be the bosses of their own startup with Google. If anything promising comes out of that effort it turns into a full time project with resources and a launch pad. Interestingly, some of the products in Google’s portfolio such as Google News, Google Suggest, Ad Sense, Orkut and Gmail are the fruits of this ‘20 percent time’ concept. The latest innovation added in the list of Google India is ‘Google Finance.’ The brainchild of two engineers of Bangalore center, Navneet Loiwal and A C Narendran.

The project was initiated in order to compile the world's financial information in a better way and make it available to millions of people. As the duo was fascinated with finance, they developed a prototype that struck the attention of Google’s founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and the executive team, Jain says. The team grew over time and added members from Google’s New York and Mountain View centers and 15 months later, on March 20, 2006, they rolled out ‘Google Finance’.

Google Finance, which is in its beta version, provides financial information on company stocks with added features. It is loaded with interactive charts, links to relevant blogs, news, search on mutual funds, stocks price, and company information and discussion boards. The three unique tools that grab the attention are company search, blogs and charts. Google Finance charts correlate market data with corresponding dated news stories. Even one can click and drag the charts to see different time periods. Google Finance also enables users to identify the top blogs about the searched company, which is yet another innovation on the same platform. Whereas, the most significant change is that users no longer need to know a company's ticker symbol (such as YHOO for Yahoo!) to find the relevant financial information. With such advanced tools, company expects that the Google Finance will stand out from its competitors. Jain claims, “Our focus was not just to provide ‘stock quotes,’ we want to help people find any kind of financial information that they are looking for.”

Besides Finance, the Bangalore R&D center is also working on projects in the area of information retrieval aimed at improving the relevance of Google’s search results, especially for the Indian users, says Jain. The information needs of people are very locale specific. For example, most of the web is authored in English and therefore not available to most of the people in India who do not speak or understand English.

Also, the mediums through which people access information are very different from country to country. These are some of the interesting problems that Google need to solve and are central to its mission of making information available to everyone. Being a multinational company, Google India wants to project its image in a localized way by concentrating on both global products & services, and also country-specific projects. He says, “We believe local people can build the best local products as they understand the needs and behavior of the local population better than anyone else. This is one of the main reasons why we are in India.”

To an extent, Jain feels, Google's recruitment strategy of hiring 'best and smart' people, who are creative and have great ideas, stands behind such innovative products. A different idea that strikes each individual working in Google triggers the development of various products at a rapid pace. The company feels such initiatives would help percolate motivation among the people in the center to come up with something big. “We give not only the freedom to work on, but also the guidance about what is the important thing to work on,” says Jain.

For a country like India, Google has different strategy to leverage the booming market and talent. However as far as recruitment process is concerned, it follows the same standards and bars across its centers. The process starts with a couple of telephonic interviews followed by campus interview. Google R&D is like one virtual campus extending around the world and offers mobility to its engineers to move to other Google R&D centers worldwide. It also encourages its employees to frequently visit different locations, which they feel is very critical in creating a unified organization.

With different approach for India as a market and source of talent, Google projects the India center as equal to its headquarter. Jain says that the Bangalore center is well equipped to handle top technical work and research projects from India. “We don’t want the best India talent to leave for U.S. or any other country to satisfy their technical hunger.” For that Google India wants to provide more opportunity to students and talented engineers. In this direction it has taken its first step. Annually, Google organizes the South Asia Code Jam Contest in India, which attracts hoards of programmers and students. The basic goal is to create fun by competing with each other. And top 50 finalists get an opportunity to have fun for two days at Google R&D center, Bangalore. Then it's 'fun' to be in Google. Decide where you want to be?

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