Google workers lived for months at California campus

By Leo Kelion
Technology desk editor

image copyrightM Weaver
image captionMatthew Weaver erected a fence and placed fake grass in front of his campervan

An ex-Google worker has revealed how he lived at the firm's campus in Mountain View, California, for 54 weeks between 2005 and 2006, kicking off a trend.

Matthew Weaver told the BBC that he had been dared to spend a year based out of a campervan parked on one of the company's lots.

He added that while he believed he was the first to do so, several others later followed his lead.

Google and other major tech firms are renowned for the perks they give staff.

"They had three meals a day at the cafeteria and there were showers at the gym that were also on campus, so I would shower at the gym, eat at the office," Mr Weaver recalled.

image copyrightM Weaver
image captionMr Weaver did not try to hide his presence from Google's security guards

"There was a free laundromat on campus, so I could wash my clothes.

"There were all sorts of rooms with pianos and foosball tables [table football], and all these kinds of things, so I had plenty to do when I was taking a break from work.

"And we had places in the parking structure where I could work on and maintain my bicycle."

Security approved

The former Google staff site ecologist explained that rather than try to hide his presence, he placed a white picket fence and astroturf in front of his vehicle for a time.

"Security didn't mind," he added. "This was all the way back in 2005 and Google was a much smaller company then. A little bit more closely knit.

"Once security figured out it was me, they knew who I was, and they basically kept an eye on the place for me.

"I'm pretty sure I was the first. Towards the end of those 54 weeks and the two or three years that followed people would come and ask me questions.

"They would be like, 'I'm thinking about living on campus, do you have any advice?'"

He added that he had been comfortable with the lifestyle, but eventually moved out because it had become "a bit weird" to explain it to women he was dating.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionGoogle has sports facilities and music rooms on offer to staff at its headquarters

Mr Weaver's unusual residency came to prominence after he wrote about his time at the firm on a forum on discussion site Quora.

Snack stations

Another ex-worker at the search giant also posted about living on campus for what was a briefer but more recent stay, and also agreed to speak to the BBC.

Brandon Oxendine - who helped design the way Google Profiles work - said that when he lived on site between June and September 2012, he had to do surreptitiously.

"A friend who had been at Google for five or six years told me there's actually a thing in the Google handbook that says you're not allowed to be on campus for more than 72 hours, or something like that," he said.

image copyrightMorgan Brown
image captionBrandon Oxendine lived at Google between 28 June and 22 September 2012

Mr Oxendine slept on a twin mattress kept in a station wagon parked in the garage below the building he worked in.

"I had told everyone I had moved into San Francisco, but I was always coming up in the same outfit from the parking garage," he recalls.

Like his predecessor, he said that there was never a need to go hungry.

"I think there's some sort of policy that Google has that no employee can be too far from a snack station.

"I worked a tonne, so I didn't really get bored... I loved it. I'd like to do it again."

Sleeping pods

But the person who may hold the record for the longest stint living at work is Ben Discoe, who was based in a van parked on campus for just over 60 weeks across much of 2011 and 2012.

image copyrightB Discoe
image captionMr Discoe moved into a van because he did not have enough money to rent a place near Google's campus

"I did cheat slightly," he acknowledged. "I got a girlfriend who had an apartment in Mountain View, so I'd go there sometimes."

He recalled that by the time he joined the firm, an internal wiki website called Living At Google had been created by another employee.

"He enumerated the many perks they give you - free access to washing machines and this and that," he told the BBC.

"The only thing they don't give you was shampoo. He said, 'Maybe they'll give you shampoo if the stock price hits $300.' And then that was crossed out and it said, '$400', and that was crossed out and it said, '$500'."

image copyrightMetronap
image captionGoogle provides its staff with pods to snooze in, but some workers preferred to nap in their cars

"I believe it's the equivalent of about $1,200 now, and there's still no shampoo."

Mr Discoe added that Google had provided its own rest facilities for workers, but they had proved impractical for deep sleep.

"I did not care for the sleeping pods. They were are much hyped... but I found they were just as noisy as trying to sleep at your desk.

"And they were kind of mocked."

Google declined to comment.

The BBC understands that the company does not encourage living at work, but it is not something it actively polices against.

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