June 13, 2013, 2:52 PM —
No one will deny the facts: Google's campus is beautiful. Its products shape the way we live. And the company offers fantastic employee perks. But "The Internship," a bro-comedy about two grown men (Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson) who start on Google's bottom floor, looks more like a Google recruiting video than a real movie with a real plot.
The result is a cheesy film littered with cliches about Google's corporate culture. So, to reality check the movie, I spoke with a former Google intern (and now a full-time Google engineer), who asked that we not use his name. Our intern says that rather than revealing anything surprising about the daily life of Google and its people, what we get is a cute retelling of all the trivial stuff we already know about the company.
Google values altruism
One of Google's main objectives is to run a profitable business without doing any evil--and this do-good, feel-good mantra is heavily prevalent throughout the movie. The film's antagonist is a fellow intern who's smart, ambitious and creative, yet also a colossal jerk who only uses his skills selfishly. He's the big loser in the movie, because it turns out the most compassionate and team-minded interns are the ones who will eventually be hired.
Sergey Brin is everywhere
Sergey Brin makes a few cameos in the movie. He's riding an elliptical bike! He's mingling with the interns! And he largely goes unnoticed by the actors playing Google employees. (In fact, the theater audience didn't even react to his sightings when I saw the movie.) Perhaps the company's co-founder is a common fixture around the office, so this limited reaction might be pretty accurate. (I was hoping to see his pink Tesla instead.)
Android is in, iPhone is out
Throughout the movie, all of the interns and Google employees are constantly attached to their phones. The camera never zooms in to show exactly what kind of phones they're using, but they are definitely nondescript Android phones.
However, the cameras do focus on a smartphone in one particular scene: A little old lady lifts her iPhone up to eye-level, unlocks the screen, and tells Vaughn and Wilson the time. (The two sold wristwatches for a living before moving on to Google.) The Apple logo is in focus, and the audience hears the signature "click" of the Apple screen unlocking. This little vignette sends a message that's loud and clear: iPhones are for ordinary folk, but Android phones are for hip, young innovators.
Google's campus is a playground for adults
When Vaughn and Wilson first arrive at Google's HQ, Wilson looks around and says, "Picture the greatest amusement park you've ever been to as a kid. Now imagine nothing like it and a million times better."
Even though "The Internship" was largely filmed on a set at Georgia Tech, select scenes were filmed at Google's Mountain View campus, and were not exaggerated. Everyone wandering around the Google campus looks so... happy. They ride around on brightly colored bicycles, play volleyball, and lounge in the sun during breaks. They can also take fitness classes, get their clothes dry-cleaned, and eat free food from a number of cafeterias. Feeling a little low on energy? Rest up in a Nap Pod for a few minutes, or take the slide down a few floors instead of the stairs.
TechHive has been to Google. Our former intern friend worked there. Nothing above is a myth (but it is cliche).
Google has a solution for everything
Almost every major Google product plays a role in "The Internship." Vaughn performs Google searches to look for a new job. Vaughn and Wilson conduct their interview over Google Hangouts. The intern teams collaborate over Google Docs, communicate through Gmail and Gchat, and always have Chrome open and ready to go. When the interns go out for a night on the town, Google Maps help them get from hotspot to hotspot. The icing on the cake? Our heroes help save a dying business by using Google Analytics and Google Reviews to figure out where the family-run pizza shop should add another location.
Tough interview process
It's highly unlikely that you'll land a job at Google after a single interview (which you attend with your best friend via Google Hangouts, as seen in the film). But the company is notorious for asking challenging and thought-provoking interview questions, and this became a gag in the movie.
For example, Vaughn and Wilson were asked what they would do if they were shrunken down to the size of a nickel and thrown into a glass blender. "The intern interview process is a lot lighter than the full-time one," said our Google intern. "But I had two phone interviews. They asked a few technical questions. There was some coding stuff, but none of the brainteaser-type questions."
That, it seems, comes later down the road.
Young, smart, overachievers rule the world
The hodge-podge crop of interns featured in "The Internship" are all bright students from leading universities. This is consistent with the conventional wisdom that Google values degrees and talent from the best institutions. Community college drop-outs need not apply.
And not only are the interns young, but pretty much everyone else in the movie is young too--reinforcing another cliche that Google has a bit of an ageism problem. In the movie, the mid-level managers were maybe in their late 20s or early 30s, as was the Head of Google Search (who always sported a hoodie and headphones). Vaughn and Wilson looked older than their boss, which surely was a deliberate casting decision. Our heroes are presumably in their mid-40s, and had a hard time keeping up with all the Googley whipper-snappers.
Its worth noting that the interns in the movie are expected to excel in a variety of tasks: They can write code, find software bugs, build apps, help solve user problems, and sell Google tools to new customers. It sends a positive message about Google's talent pool, but doesn't square with real life. In a real Google internship, "You're placed on a team within a specific department with a target project or feature to implement," says our real-life intern.
Exclusive Google culture
If the upbeat work environment and free food isn't enough, we're given a glimpse at the secret world of Google's campus culture, starting with Google lingo. The intern orientation leader greats all of the new interns as "Nooglers" ("new Googlers"), hands them all colorful propeller-top caps (which they all wear un-ironically), and tells them all that they're looking for interns that best inhabit "Googliness." These words can't be real, right?
"Those are actual words, believe it or not--and also just the tip of that particular iceberg," said our Google intern. "Being Googly, I guess, is having an attitude similar to that of the company: playful, intelligent, helpful, considerate, and a little laid back."