Sunday, September 5, 2010

New York, New York

I've noticed a theme in my life recently: as soon as I begin to feel settled into one place, I know it's just about time for the next. This last week in New York has certainly had its ups and downs. Five days to scramble around, trying to coordinate logistics across three continents certainly wasn't easy; in fact, it was probably the most stressful week I've spent at Google in any of my internships, but I suppose that was to be expected. On the other hand, there has been so much awesomeness too: tons of delicious food courtesy of the Google NY Culinary Team (I think I ate a full meal every other hour), a new smart phone, and most importantly, catching up with lots of old friends and getting to make a few new ones.

Aside from the scramble to get ready, I spent the week meeting with some key players on the Google Africa team, getting as much advice as I could amass. Here are some of the interesting tidbits.

  • Understand the user. Do as the locals do. Go outside major cities; see where people live. Try to spend a night living with a local 
  • Feel people's pain. Try the Internet connection and cell phones that the locals use. Understand their experience.
  • Beware of corruption. When money is so hard to come by, many people have to engage in unethical behavior to make a living. I heard about a project that was sabotaged by the people it was built for because it made selling services on the side too easy to track.
  • Use my novelty to my advantage. There's no arguing that I'm clearly going to stick out like a sore thumb wherever I go. Instead of taking it as an obstacle, turn it to my favor. Don't be apologetic for being different.
  • Go with the flow. The work culture in many of the countries I'm going to is just fundamentally different. People won't follow schedules in the way we do, for instance. Just accept it.

Another fun part of the week involved the six-foot talk K'Nex Ferris wheel that I (and three other interns) built two years ago. It used to sit up on the sixth floor with sales but has since been moved to a new seat of honor, at the very entrance to the office that nearly everyone passes going in and out of work. On every tour I gave this week, I would point it out and note, "I built that." The reactions ranged from laughter to respect to disbelief. My favorite was a friend proclaiming, "only at Google do the interns get paid to play with K'Nex." A true statement if I've ever heard one. In fact, we got quite a bit of publicity for it when we did.

Our K'Nex creation in its original location two years ago.

Tomorrow, to Africa! More pictures after the jump...

Saying goodbye to old friends, Steph Rigione and Caitlin Strandberg.

User experience interns, Hronn Brynjarsdottir and me, in NYC two summers ago.

My apartment for the week, courtesy of Google.

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Caitlin said...

America misses you already Ben! Can't wait to hear about all that happens to you in Africa. Keep those bullet point lessons coming - could help us over here :)

Best of luck and safe travels!
-Caitlin, Steph & Ash

Zain said...

Good luck Ben! Keep us posted!

Unknown said...

Have an amazing time on your African adventure!

Unknown said...

Thanks for the kind messages everyone! Landed safely in Ghana this morning. Now just to figure out what I'm doing here... haha

Unknown said...

Have a great time, and keep us posted with details, details, details.