The marquee on the University of Waterloo‘s Federation Hall was only changed on Tuesday to “Google welcomes you,” but the school was already expecting more than 1,000 people to attend an event by the search firm to recruit talent for its Canadian operations.
Craig Nevill-Manning, Google‘s chief engineer, will deliver a keynote speech at an event that will run Tuesday night from 4:00 to 8:00 p.m. as part of the University of Waterloo (UW) Campus Day, spokespeople said. Waterloo mayor Herb Epp will be attending, as will UW president David Lloyd Johnston. Unlike the other job fair-style events taking place across campus, Google is hosting an informal bash where guests will be encouraged to dress in 1970s attire.
“It’s basically going to be a big party,” said Nick Cake, a UW student who works at Federation Hall. “There’s going to be a lot of lava lamps. It’ll be a dry event, so no alcohol, but there will be a lot of strawberry and banana smoothies.”
Google has a sales office in Toronto, but it made a significant foray into Canada last summer through the acquisition of Reqwireless, a Waterloo-based firm that makes e-mail software for wireless devices. Among the Canadian job listings on its career page is an ad for a mobile wireless applications developer who has development experience with handsets and carriers in the U.S., European and Asian markets. Google is looking for candidates with experience in J2ME, Symbian, Windows Mobile and a number of other languages. Google spokespeople did not respond to interview requests at press time.
UW spokesman John Morris said it was Google who approached the university about the party.
“Normally there is a job fair held near the campus. That involves a whole bunch of employers. Renting out the hall, that’s new,” he said. “There’s a lot of interest in the company.”
Google, which last year formed a partnership with Motorola, has indicated that mobile clients such as cell phones could become more important than PCs. Its purchase of Reqwireless, which was started in 2001 by UW graduates, has sparked considerable attention since it was officially announced in January.
“We don’t get many US$125 billion companies dropping by … certainly not with Google’s cachet,” Gary Will, a consultant who works with early-stage companies in Waterloo on marketing and business strategy, wrote in his blog. “Adobe — which is bigger than RIM –- (has) been here for years and hardly anyone knows about it. We had Cisco and AOL and HP here in the past, so it’s too early to speculate on what this might mean long-term.
Larry Borsato, a veteran of Waterloo’s tech scene who has worked at Nortel, Open Text and other well-known firms, said there are many people in southwestern Ontario who might attract Google’s attention, whether they graduated from UW or not.
“It would be nice for them to suck a few people away from RIM,” he said, adding that the best candidates for Google will adopt a Renaissance attitude to their careers. “The people that any company looks for will have to have broad knowledge. . . the smartest people I know are the ones who dabble in philosophy and literature as well as technology, and Google has a lot of people like that.”
Since its intial public offering almost two years ago, hiring and retention have been a big priority for Google. Like many firms, it is using a staffing agency called ABE Services based in Sonoma, Calif., to fill the gaps. An ad for a data centre technician in Toronto, for example, is being handled by ABE, who will act as the employer on Google’s behalf.
According to labour market statistics released by Ottawa-based Robert Half Technology on Tuesday, 84 per cent of CIOs don’t anticipate making any changes to their personnel in the second quarter. Jeff Thomson, a Robert Half branch manager, said the arrival of a Dell call centre in Ottawa created immediate ripple effects that may be similar to what Google is trying to achieve.
“It is going to stir up something within the market,” he said. “Everybody talks Google. When they open up operations, that will cause people to jump ship . . . this is a prominent, healthy, financially safe and secure company, so it’s less of a risk than a dot-com company.”
Carmi Levy, an analyst with London, Ont.-based Info-Tech research, said Google is following in the footsteps of Microsoft, which sent Bill Gates to the campus last year to discuss careers in technology. Even when Microsoft is cutting back on hiring, Levy said, Waterloo is still considered an important place to cultivate talent. Those who want to work at Google, he said, should be wary of focusing too narrowly on a specific wireless or other IT stream.
“If you pick a specification that is not hot, you’re in trouble,” he said. “You need to look at education as education, not as a training. Keep as many doors open as possible, and then use your employer to specifically train on particular technologies that emerge after you graduate.”
Borsato agreed, adding that Waterloo’s track record of startup success means entrepreneurship will thrive long after Google’s recruiting drive.
“For every guy who goes to work for a company like Google there’s going to be a Larry Page who starts the companies,” he said.
In an e-mail to ITBusiness.ca, Will said those attending the UW event will take away the message that suits them.
“Entrepreneurial people thinking about starting their own company will look at this as an inspiring story of what can happen when you create something worthwhile,” he said. “Most people aren’t going to start a company, and for them, they’ll see this as an opportunity to work for an exciting, world-famous company without having to move to Silicon Valley and spending a half-million dollars on some hovel.”