Originally Published: Tuesday, 6 June 2000 Author: Melanie Burrett
Published to: interact_articles_jobs_profiles/Job Profiles Page: 1/1 - [Std View]

Google: The Search Engine That Could

Google is one of the most user-friendly search engines on the 'net. A friend recommended it to me a year ago, and to tell the truth I was a little leery of something that had a button that said "I'm feeling lucky," but I tried it. There's a lot more to it than the pretty colours -- employees like Jim Reese, the Chief Operations Engineer, have helped to create a fun, quick, and relevant search engine.

Google is one of the most user-friendly search engines on the 'net. A friend recommended it to me a year ago, and to tell the truth I was a little leery of something that had a button that said "I'm feeling lucky," but I tried it. I was amazed at how easy and fun it was, and it quickly became one of my favourites.. Apparently I was not the only one to think this. Google won two Webby awards recently: the Technology Award and the Judges' Choice award. According to Jim Reese, the people who went up to get the awards did it on rollerblades, wearing "We love you, Google users" jerseys. This says pretty much everything you need to know about the company...

Google is committed to excellence, but they understand that hard work doesn't have to be tedious. Every Friday afternoon there is a meeting where new people are announced, birthdays are celebrated, and the "state of the Google address" is given. There is also an in-house roller-hockey league (Not in-house literally -- they use the back parking lot). Jim, himself, has a beaded curtain instead of a door to his office.

Jim Reese is the Chief Operations Engineer for Google. He is responsible for the well-being of the 4000 computers which make up the network. When he first arrived there were only about 400 computers. Within the first month, it was scaled up to 2000. Jim had to write code and design the architecture from scratch. The other big search engines and networks such as Yahoo's or Microsoft's are spread over many data centers. Google only has three data centers, so it required a different approach.

His previous experience was on much smaller networks. Five years ago he was doing research at Stanford Research Institute International, and set up a Linux email/Web server for his boss on a SPARC station. It was very necessary as the email server that he replaced was 20 years old. Apparently the machine that he set up is still running all the email for the department. When he was looking for a home system, FreeBSD was in the middle of legal troubles, and even back then the Linux community was more established and friendly. He had used 'nixes in college and medical school, so Windows wasn't really even in the running.

Before Jim Reese got into the field of computers he was a neurosurgeon at Stanford. The project that he was working on was a computer program that would analyze images from an MRI scan (Magnetic Resonance Image) to look for brain tumours or indications that the patient may have had a stroke. It was designed to find very small signs that the human eye would miss.

Why did he leave? Well, being on-call every two days was not an easy schedule to manage. Now he can get a phone call at 2 am when a network goes down, but that doesn't happen every two days. As well, academia can be a little difficult from the political end.

Google has used Linux since the beginning. All of the servers are stripped down versions of Red Hat 6.x. It came with all the development tools needed by engineers and programmers, and even though they paid a fee to use it, it was still much cheaper than the alternatives.

The idea for Google came from two Ph.D. candidates at Stanford. Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the co-founders, were working on a thesis/research project which dealt with databases and information retrieval technology which could stay abreast of the rapidly-expanding Internet. Google officially started in 1998 at http://www.google.stanford.edu.

Jim Reese was hired in June 1999 directly into his current position. He was the first full-time sysadmin. Jim's job is to monitor security newsgroups, patch and update kernels, and write tools to manage a cluster of thousands of machines. This last job is what takes up most of his time. There will be 10 000 machines by the end of the year.

Even though it is long hours and hard work, he really appreciates the kooky congeniality and the academic atmosphere that is encouraged by the company. Jim counts among a dozen or so employees who have (or almost have) a Ph.D. in something. There is also the satisfaction of knowing that he had played a major hand in helping Google grow from 5000 hits a day to over 17 million. This is going up by a rate of 20-30% per month.

For future Google employee hopefuls he has this advice: install Linux and play with it. Read everything you can get your hands on. Everything you need to know is on the Internet somewhere. If you don't know Linux, you won't be hired at Google. If you have any questions, contact bill@google.com.