Rohan Shah just finished a semester interning at Google. To become a Google intern, Shah took a leave of absence from his school in Illinois.
In early January, 20-year-old Rohan Shah got an email from Google.
The search giant – the best company to work for in the world! – was interested in interviewing him for one of its coveted internship positions.
It had been weeks since Shah filled out the online application following a career fair at his college, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He had already accepted another summer internship at Qualcomm one month prior.
But this was Google! And Shah couldn't let the opportunity slip by.
A Google spokesperson says Google accepts only 1,500 interns out of 40,000 applicants every year in the United States. Earning a spot at Google is competitive, Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn just made a movie about it.
Shah went through with the interview process, which spanned more than one month. By the end of January, he was offered a position.
Instead of canceling his summer plans with Qualcomm, Shah called his school and took a leave of absence. He flew to Mountain View, California and became one of about 50 interns this past spring.
What was the interview process like? And what's it really like being a Google Intern? Shah and other interns recount their tales.
Getting The Interview: A Slow And Tedious Process
The Google interview process, whether you're applying for an internship or a full-time position, begins with an online application. The hopeful candidate fills out forms that inquire about his or her grade point average, past experiences, extra curricular activities and more.
Shah didn't do anything fancy with his resume to attract attention. But he can speak three languages, he has received a volunteering medal of honor, and he's on his school's Dean's List. In addition, he's been a teaching assistant, held previous internships and, just for fun, he creates Android apps.
Still, it took multiple weeks for Google to respond to his November application. When Google finally did, it sent him an email.
Another intern candidate, Evan Carmi, said he waited a month and a half before hearing from Google HR when he applied in 2010.
The email correspondence between Google HR and the candidate leads to two phone interviews with current Google employees.
That's when the process really begins.
A Series Of 'Highly Technical' 45-Minute Interviews
Google was once infamous for asking tough brainteasers during its interview process. After a bout of negative press, Google forbid its staff from asking candidates questions like "How many cows are in Canada?"
Still, the interviews – even for interns – are highly technical.
"It was essentially applying your knowledge in a very practical situation," Shah explains, which is about as in-depth as Google will let him go. Google has a strict policy against sharing company information, although it allowed our interview with Shah.
"It's figuring out if you can scale a system, or you can make something much more efficient," he says. The best applicants are able to apply those concepts quickly throughout the entire 45-minute process.
Carmi's interviews were equally technical, and he wrote freely about them in a 2010 blog post. His first of the back-to-back calls was from a Site Reliability Engineer at Google. He asked Carmi questions pertaining to Python, such as "Write a function with the following specification: Input: a list. Output: a copy of the list with duplicates removed."
Carmi's second interview was with a Carnegie Mellon graduate on Google's Webmaster Tools Team who asked him to write actual code. A single question took up the vast majority of the 45-minute slot and caused Carmi to all but break a sweat.
Carmi was asked to do a third technical phone interview and his dreams of becoming a Google intern died there.
Shah was more fortunate. One week after his two phone interviews, he received an email from HR: "You did well in the interviews, we want to continue the process," he was told.
The Google recruiter then helped him figure out which department he'd like to intern for, and more interviews followed.
"I had interviews with around five different teams," he says.
Unlike the phone interviews, the team interviews aren't technical. They help the potential interns get to know the different groups within Google and learn if they'll like working in one over another.
By late January – three months after submitting his application – Shah was officially a Google intern. He'd be joining Google's Android department.
His next stop: Mountain View.
Housing, Roommates, And Commute, All Covered By Google
It may seem impossible to get an internship offer across the country and start working there two weeks later.
But if you're a Google intern, the company solves all of your housing and travel logistics for you. Shah was put up in Google-paid corporate housing, in San Jose's North Park, with fellow Google interns for roommates.
Shah was assigned three roommates, two from Argentina and one from Ukraine. "I got to meet people from a completely different culture. I got to learn from them and picked up a bit of their languages as well," says Shah. "It was a great housing experience for me."
Shah describes the apartment as "very nice" with a train station close by for easy access to most places in Silicon Valley.
There's no need for a car or a bike when you're a Google intern. Google sends free shuttles throughout the entire Bay Area, including San Francisco, San Jose, Palo Alto and Berkeley, to take employees to work and home at night.
Bikes are available on Google's campus for long-term rent, or for hopping from office to office around the 'Plex.
A Week And A Half Of Orientation
The intern orientation process goes on for a week and a half. Interns are taught how the data centers work, how the company functions, and what Google's goals are. They also meet all the other new Googlers.
"Just in the first week you feel like you've been an employee for a year," Shah says. "You get acclimated with the company very quickly."
From the moment he stepped onto Google's grassy campus, Shah was in love.
"My first day was amazing," he says.
Making The Money
Google interns get paid more than most full-time employees across the country. According to Glassdoor, the average Google intern makes $5,678 per month, or $68,136 per year.
Shah's pay was slightly more at about $6,100 per month or $80,000 per year.* Take into account all of the perks, including free rent, transportation, gym membership and food, and a Google intern is living large.
"I didn't find myself wasting any money, except on weekends when I went exploring," says Shah. "It was a great semester."
So, What Do Google Interns Do All Day?
A lot of work, and a lot of team building activities.
Shah recalls trips to museums, movies, hiking and biking excursions, as well as several trips to San Francisco, all organized by Google. He was the only intern on his Android team, and there were a lot of team dinners, including one on his 20th birthday.
Unlike most other internships, where the underlings send faxes and grab coffees, Google interns work on real products that will be used by the world.
Each intern is assigned a project within his or her group. They're also assigned a mentor who will chat with them weekly, or as frequently as the intern needs, and give feedback on their progress.
Shah's project involved working with old Gmail code and launching a new, top-secret feature. His favorite memory from the internship is the day he rolled out the Android feature internally. He received tons of feedback from his peers, and then it hit him: The work he had done at Google was going to impact millions of people.
"It was a great sense of satisfaction," Shah recalls.
A current Google software engineer, Kitt Vanderwater, had a similar experience when she interned in the Google+ department. "I had a lot of responsibility," she says. "It was a little overwhelming because I was doing all these things I had never done before. I was the one who was driving a lot of the decisions we were making, I ended up making the page for signed-out search, which was the first experience anyone got in the new Google+ search. So basically I owned this page that tons of people were going to land on when Search was actually launched."
What Googlers Are Really Like
Googlers aren't a bunch of social misfits, although that's how they're occasionally portrayed. Shah was surprised how normal and non-geeky everyone at Google was, engineers included.
"One thing that really surprised me working at Google was that every single employee is extremely creative and extremely active," Shah says. "There's a very clear divide between work and life. Google engineers are very well-balanced. I have evidence that people really are the best thing at Google ."
"I have evidence that people really are the best thing at Google ." Meeting Sergey Brin
Interns aren't all introduced to Google's top executives. Nor are they allowed to test out all of the cool-new devices that Google is building. Shah never zipped around in a driverless car or wore Google Glass while he was there. But he did run into Google co-founder Sergey Brin once.
"The one time I did meet Sergey, three intern friends and I were going bowling," Shah explained. (But not bowling off campus, of course. Google has its own alley.) " Sergey happened to be passing by, showing his friend around the place. That's actually as much as I saw of Sergey."
The Perks: 24 Cafes, Multiple Gyms, A Wellness Center And More
You won't starve working for Google. Like most Googlers, Shah says the food was "probably the biggest perk."
He estimated the Googleplex had 24 cafes with a wide variety of cuisines to choose from: Mexican, American, Indian, salad bars, pizza shops and burger joints. Gyms are located close to cafes for anyone feeling over-fed.
The gyms are well equipped and are often completely full, says Shah.
If you get sick, you just go to Google's wellness center. Feel a knot in your back? Go to the on-campus masseuse. All are available for interns as well as employees.
"Free food and refreshments, free gym membership, laundry, dancing lessons, etc," Paul Baltescu, a two-time Google intern, rattles off perks on Quora. "Intern events are also loads of fun: you may go to paintball, laser tag, watch a SF Giants game and all summer interns go on a luxury boat trip on the San Francisco Bay. Also, depending on your team you may attend other fun events like white river rafting, a three days trip to Lake Tahoe or may get to visit other Google offices."
The Cons of Being A Google Intern? There Are None
If there are any downsides to being a Google intern, Shah can't recall any. His only complaint is more of a frustration with himself.
Shah wasn't as experienced an Android developer as Google's full-time engineers, so it took him some time before he could fully contribute to the team. But he says his co-workers were understanding and his mentor was always there for encouragement.
Like Shah, Baltescu can think of only pros when he recalls his internship experience.
Life After A Google Internship
For Shah, one internship led right into another. When we contacted him he was getting ready for his first day at Qualcomm. But he had already interviewed for a full-time job at Google after graduation and was waiting to hear back. Interns can interview before their departure, and their mentors can help them prep.
Shah has a good shot. Jenna Wandres, Google's Communications Associate who oversees all things culture, tells us: "We rely heavily on those interns when we're thinking about hiring."
Shah's advice to other hopeful Google interns?
"Google is really looking for experience," he says. "They want to find engineers who are motivated, so activities outside of school really help. At the same time, you need to know your basics. You need to understand simple algorithms and how to apply them. Google is all about application."
The best piece of advice comes from Shah's Google mentor: Stay calm.
"I know every interviewer says that, But Google interviews are kind of unnerving because they're highly technical. Calming down was what really helped me through."
And if you don't get the internship?
You'll probably end up alright.
"I ended up with an internship at The New York Times that summer, and returned there the summer after as a Interactive News Developer," Carmi, the candidate Google rejected, tells us. "I graduated last week from Wesleyan University."
UPDATE: Rohan Shah was just offered a job with Google when he graduates.
*The story originally reported that Shah's salary was less than the average Google intern, but it turns out his was actually more and was equivalent to an $80,000 annual salary.
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