A Visit to Google Pittsburgh… Continued

My life is like tofu—it’s what gets added that makes it interesting.  ~Angela Johnson

Google Pittsburgh Tour 7-27-16 Aunt Heather Piper

Our Google Pittsburgh Tour. Kyle, Duncan, Barb & Me Bakery Square 7/27/16

Last Wednesday, I took Kyle and his friend on A Visit to Google Pittsburgh to tour the facility as a birthday surprise.  Now I want to share my surprises and the details of the Google offices!

Yes, I knew the office would be Googled up, and fun, and unique, but what I saw blew me away.  First, I didn’t realize the size of Google Pittsburgh.  They employ about 500, and are planning on doubling that with the expansion of the new building.  Perhaps I had it in my head this office was the same office they originally occupied near Carnegie Mellon University (CMU).   Not that I was ever there, but I knew it was smaller.  Things have changed.

Google Pittsburgh is located in Bakery Square in Pittsburgh at the old Nabisco plant.  The office consists of seven floors of sheer fun.  There are no other words to describe it.  In addition to all the branding, which Google does it right, and the attention to detail, they’ve really honored Pittsburgh with the themes and designs.  Each floor has a different theme.  While I don’t remember which floor was which, and I don’t remember everything I saw, I’d like to give a general overview.

Floors

Kyle at Google Pittsburgh Candy bowl 7-27-16 Aunt Heather Piper

Kyle helping himself to the candy bowl at Google Pittsburgh Bakery Square 7/27/16

As I mentioned each floor has a different theme.  There are seven floors total.  When you arrive in the Google lobby, you’re on the seventh floor and once you pass a secure door, the awesomeness is reveled.

One floor pays homage to Nabisco.  Each room is named for one of their products.  They even have a huge original mixer on the floor they kept from the old plant.  It sits near the pool table and pinball machine.

Another floor is dedicated to Kennywood.  There’s an actual roller coaster car in the lobby facing down the stairwell, enough said!  While walking about, they’ve incorporated ramps and railings and Kennywood styled signs to give it the feel of being in Kennywood.  It worked for me!

Another floor is dedicated to the bridges of Pittsburgh, again naming the rooms for each bridge.  There are design elements everywhere representing our beloved bridges.

One floor has the parks and trails theme, with bamboo dividers, rough cut wood paneling and total nature theme.  I mean they even have a live tree stretching up through one of the stairwells that connects two floors interrupted by an occupied floor.  Me coming from a family of loggers and woodworkers, I fell in love with that idea instantly.  I’d love to have a live tree for Thrill of the Hunt one day.

One floor captures the essence of our tunnels with hallways resembling the archways of a tunnel, the textured walls of cement and even the lighting gives you the feel of the Fort Pitt Tunnel or the Squirrel Hill Tunnel.  As you’re walking through the hallway, you almost feel like the cityscape of Pittsburgh should appear before your eyes at the end.

I wish I could remember the other details of the themes and the floors, perhaps it’ll come back to me.  I was in complete aw during the entire tour.

“Cafeteria”

As I mentioned before with A Visit to Google Pittsburgh, the cafeteria is a huge beautiful space with snazzy chairs, booths, real plates and silverware, and food stations.  All complementary for all employees and visitors.  They have a quality chef on payroll with a full kitchen staff.  Google doesn’t take this job lightly.  I heard it’s no easy task becoming a chef for Google.

Google Pittsburgh Roller Coaster ride 7-27-16 Aunt Heather Piper

Duncan, Kyle, me & Barb in the roller coaster on the Kennywood floor at Google Pittsburgh Bakery Square 7/27/16

In the corner of the kitchen they grow select fresh vegetables and herbs, to be used by the kitchen or the employees can help themselves.  One the roof of one of the levels, they even have laying chickens and more herbs growing.  Yes, real chickens someone takes care of and picks the eggs.  All the fresh ingredients are used in making the grub.  Great idea!  In fact, every food item at each station is labeled with the ingredients.  They’re even color coded according to taste and nutritional value.  The goal is to feed the employees healthy food, without it appearing or sounding healthy.

They have stations for hot foods and cold.  The kitchen staff is even on hand during the lunch hours to mix up your personal salad or serve your hot meals.  You can help yourself to fresh fruits, vegetables, water infused with a variety of healthy organic ingredients, desserts or even simply peanut butter and jelly.  They’ve got it all!  And it’s all unlimited for zero dollars!

The area is spacious and clean and very inviting.

During the tour we walked past not one, but several smaller kitchens and coffee shops scattered throughout.  You’re never more than a few feet away from a kitchen stocked with a variety of drinks (healthy and not so much), snacks, cereals and so on.  The kitchen staff stocks those smaller kitchens and coffee shop style areas of the building every day.  The Google employees are seriously hooked up.

No employee ever has to worry about bringing their lunch or snacks.  Google is also ensuring its employees are eating a lot healthier, at least that’s the goal.  It’s a proven fact that individuals who eat healthier are more alert, think better, have more energy and in turn can give back to their job.  Plus, Google just removed a major stress out of the day, what to eat?

Upon entering the lobby into the front desk area, I did notice (how could anyone miss it) a huge candy bowl.  Again, it’s a help yourself area.  When we walked in, Kyle immediately helped himself to some candy.  I gave him an “are you kidding?” look stating, “Did you ask before you helped yourself?”  His response?  “No, it’s here for anyone to eat.”  Trying to ensure he always uses good manners, I said, “Still, you should always ask first and don’t assume.”

Google even holds cooking classes in their test kitchen area for the employees.  They sometimes bring in celebrity chefs.  Wow!

Details

Google Pittsburgh lobby with Kyle Duncan Barb 7-27-16 Aunt Heather Piper

Kyle, Duncan & Barb in the lobby at Google Pittsburgh Bakery Square 7/27/16

During our tour, Andrew, our tour guide, pointed out little corners of the offices, and side conference rooms to be used by anyone who needs a change of pace from their desk, or to meet up with fellow co-workers to discuss work.  It seemed like at every turn there was a sitting area or a mini escape from the daily grind.

While walking past a cubical section of the floor, watching our Google workers hard at making our lives searchably easy, Andrew pointed out a large hammock / jungle gym structure hovering over a corner of the work space.  He took us up there.  It was literally a huge hammock, suspended a floor above for anyone to sit and relax, take a nap or stretch your legs.  It lead to another private corner with a massage chair.

Speaking of massages.  They have a massage therapist on staff as another perk.  Another great idea!

Keeping with the theme of relaxation and exercise, in yet another area, they have a room with walking treadmills overlooking Bakery Square.  The employees can plug in and work while putting on mileage.  Although, traveling through the offices will certainly give you extra steps on your pedometer.

They have a couple lecture halls to keep up with continued education and to introduce new visitors, staff members and such.  Since they have so many visitors, they have a room containing several washers and dryers for anyone to use, especially for those out of town guests.  They’ve thought of everything!  Google is certainly very considerate.

Google even has their own tech support.  Sure that would make sense since they have not only enough computers for each employee, plus.

A few additional perks include, a fully equipped gym, a music room to jam out at the end of a day, and naturally it’s a dog friendly office.

Stories

While on tour, after walking through a vault style door, we came to a hallway sporting an enlarged image covering the entire wall.  Andrew shared one of his Google experiences with us.  It was a distant shot of a building with railroad tracks in the foreground.  The building held special significance to Andrew.

Google Pittsburgh lobby sign 7-27-16 Aunt Heather Piper

This starts our tour of Google Pittsbugh Bakery Square 7/27/16

One of his first visits to Google Pittsburgh, when the office was near CMU, he said he came to the front desk, who asked him what size t-shirt.  While the front desk chick had her back to Andrew, she placed the t-shirt over her shoulders and was messing with something in the corner.  He said she all of a sudden turned around pointing Nerf guns at him and said “This office isn’t safe.”

Apparently, a few times a day the trains passed and literally shook the entire building for three minutes.  In that time, no one can get any work done.  So instead of the disturbance being a hindrance, they took advantage of the downtime with Nerf wars.  I love it!  Andrew even said that as per Amazon, a person is only permitted to purchase so many of the same product, for fear of that person reselling the product.  His friend is forever banned for life from buying Nerf products on Amazon because of their daily recreation.

Andrew also told us that Google employees get credit for visiting other data centers and offices, when they swipe their badge.  What do they get?  Simply a virtual trophy or some sort.  I love how Google encourages its employees to go above and beyond, in a fun and productive way.  Now that’s a vision the company mastered.

Keep in mind this is all just in Google Pittsburgh.  Can you imagine the headquarters?  Which is now on my list to tour.  I thoroughly enjoyed by visit to Google Pittsburgh.  They have taken their success and done right by their employees and customers alike.  Great job Google!  I’d love to build a scavenger hunt in any Google office.

I can’t wait for Kyle’s next birthday.  It’s a big one, sixteen!

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posted by auntheather in Education & Learning,Family,News,Observation & Imagination,Random Fun Facts,Thrill of the Hunt Scavenger Hunts and have No Comments

A Visit to Google Pittsburgh

Being a nerd, which is to say going too far and caring too much about a subject, is the best way to make friends I know.  ~Sarah Vowell

Google Pittsburgh Tour 7-27-16 Aunt Heather Piper

Andrew Widdowson, Barb Planinsek, Kyle Piper, Duncan Jones & Me at Google offices in Pittsburgh at Bakery Square 7/27/16

This past Wednesday, I wanted to surprise Kyle and do something for his birthday, which is tomorrow.  Summer is nearly over, especially when Kyle begins bandcamp and I’ve hardly seen my little vacationer since school let out.  This weekend he’s heading to Virginia, deep south with my parents and family friends to go catfishing, at night.  (Actually, they left a few hours ago.)  Skirting around all the plans, Wednesday felt like the most opportune time to spend a day with Kyle.  Done.

With the help of a family friend, Barb Planinsek, we made arrangements to tour the Google offices in Pittsburgh.  You see Barb’s nephew, Andrew, is employed by Google and chose to work in Pittsburgh this summer. (Nephews are the best!)  He travels all around the world for his job, but is headquartered in Mountainview, California.  Of course I couldn’t pass up this opportunity.

Unbeknownst to Kyle, the plans for Wednesday were made months prior, when I met Andrew at the Fishing Derby in May.  Naturally, upon hearing who Andrew’s employer was, I instantly thought, Touring Google Pittsburgh would be a great experience for Kyle and a perfect birthday activity!  I’m not one hundred percent sure, but I think I was right.  Although, trying to get excitement out of that kid is hard, but by golly I saw it during our tour!

Unfortunately, because of everyone’s schedules, Wednesday was planned on Tuesday.  Not ideal but it worked out.  My goal was to surprise Kyle with an experience most don’t have, give him an educational activity he’d enjoy, and begin networking him for his future.  Bonus!

Kyle & Duncan at Google Pittsburgh 7-27-16 Aunt Heather Piper

Kyle & Duncan tour the Google offices in Pittsburgh as a birthday surprise! 7/27/16

Andrew kindly moved his day around to accommodate us.  Barb and I were on board from the beginning.  Now came the hard part, Kyle.  I tried calling, to let him know I arranged a surprise for him, but he never answered the phone. I thought about texting, and chose another route.  Initially, I was toying with the idea that Kyle might enjoy the experience more with a friend.  During the planning process, I got a hold of Jennifer, Kyle’s good friend Duncan’s mother.  (If you can follow that.)  She was more than happy to lend us her son for the day.  In fact, Duncan was in on the secret and helped me align Kyle.  Plus, Duncan was excited about the adventure too.

All day Tuesday, Jennifer kept me posted to Kyle’s responses to Duncan.  Duncan called Kyle and said he was coming over Wednesday morning around 7:30 am for a surprise.  I was told Kyle’s response was, “If I’m getting up early I want to know why.”  Boy is that kid stubborn!  Duncan remained steadfast and never told Kyle who was picking them up, and what they were doing.  Eventually, later in the day, I was told Kyle was intrigued about the surprise.  I believe he was excited because when I showed up on Wednesday, he was ready to roll.  He even tried to hide a smile from his lips, though I’m quick and I saw it!  I too was grinning from ear to ear ready to jump out of my skin.

Heading west, we eventually made our way to Bakery Square in Pittsburgh.  We stopped and had breakfast, figuring the boys would be hungry before our ultimate activity.  We actually had time to waste, since I didn’t know what traffic was going to be like, and we were so close to Shadyside, we headed to the area for some exploration.  What did the boys do with their freedom to shop and money in their hands?  They played Pokemon Go.  At least I got Kyle out moving around and he seemed to be in a pretty good mood.

Duncan & Kyle playing Pokemon Go in Shadyside 7-27-16 Aunt Heather Piper

Duncan & Kyle playing Pokemon Go in Shadyside before our Google Pittsburgh tour 7/27/16

Once we made our way back to Bakery Square and entered the lobby, Kyle read the list of companies on the elevator wall, while I told the guard we were heading to the seventh floor.  Even Kyle couldn’t miss the bright bold letters that read “Google”, seventh floor.  Then, suddenly without warning it happened again.  True happiness in the form of a smile left Kyle and was spotted!  Kyle’s smirk is like the elusive Sasquatch, it has been rumored to make its appearance and then vanish before your eyes.  Now I can say I was a first hand witness!  The facial gesture was something between ornery, knowing the secret, and being truly excited.  It was at that moment, I was honestly happy.

We get to the lobby and naturally I want to start snapping pictures.  Kyle wasn’t pleased about this part of our trip, but complied with minimal resistance.

Andrew met us at the front door and passed out our name tags, while I did the formal introductions.  Would you believe Kyle didn’t remember meeting Andrew at the Fishing Derby?  I made it a point to introduce him and of course his employer.  That kid cracks me up.

Andrew did a great job with the tour!  He shared his own personal stories and fun facts about Google, especially Google Pittsburgh.  I knew Andrew was the perfect tour guide, but what I didn’t expect is what I saw in the offices.  Wow.  In a separate post, I’ll explain later.  You would not believe.  Now it was my turn to be surprised.

Once the tour came to a close it was lunch time.  We joined Andrew in the “cafeteria” which resembled an upscale restaurant, with stations of gourmet food, real plates and utensils, a variety of infused waters, and restaurant quality tables and chairs, and booths.

Our lunch was fantastic!  Plus, it was all free.  Google has a full kitchen staff, including a quality chef to prepare these, nutritious (mostly aside from the desserts), delicious meals for all its employees as a perk.  There was so much, Andrew had to walk us around and show us everything, including the corner of the room where they grew some fresh vegetables and herbs.  Seriously?  Yes!

Not to downplay the tour, which is impossible, but the best part of the day was our conversation during lunch.  Andrew continued telling us about his job and sharing stories, always projecting enthusiasm.  You can tell he genuinely loves what he does, and is proud of his accomplishments at Google, which he should be.  Kyle and Duncan even stepped out of their comfort zone to ask questions, but mostly they listened.

Kyles birthday celebration at Google Pittsburgh 7-27-16 Aunt Heather Piper

We celebrated Kyle’s 15th birthday at Google Pittsburgh, Bakery Square 7/27/16

After we ate lunch, we sang Happy Birthday to Kyle and celebrated with cupcakes.  On Tuesday, during the planning stages, I ordered cupcakes from a local bakery and had them delivered for another little surprise twist.  I knew we were eating lunch there and I thought it would be fun to celebrate Kyle’s fifteenth birthday at Google Pittsburgh.  Yes, I even brought candles!  (Although, I forgot the matches, which Barb reminded me of when we were in Shadyside.  I bummed a pack from a smoker who worked in a bar.)

On a side note, I didn’t realize there are roughly five hundred employed in Google Pittsburgh.  I was going to order a sheet cake, thinking we’d share with everyone in the office.  Nope.  Besides, they’re well stocked with sweet treats, I’m sure they didn’t miss the cupcakes.

During the course of the Google experience, I noticed Kyle and Duncan were never distracted by their phones or video games (at least not that I was aware of).  They listened to Andrew and seemed interested in what he was saying, even during lunch.  I think the day was a success.  Now I’m starting to make plans for Kyle’s next birthday.  It’s a big one, his sixteenth.

After we said our goodbyes, we headed to Station Square to get on a Ducky Tour of Pittsburgh, keeping with the theme.  Unfortunately, the next ride was booked up.  I did make reservations the day prior, but I cancelled for fear we might not make the departure time.  I didn’t want to rush us out of Google.  It was a hot day and I could tell the boys had enough anyway.  We headed home.  It didn’t take them long to fall asleep.

On a side note, besides giving Kyle a memorable experience, there was just an equally great part to the adventure.  It was rubbing our personal tour of Google in my sister’s face, and continuing my claim to the coolest aunt!  At least that’s what I told her.

I hope Kyle and Duncan had a great day.  Happy Birthday Kyle!

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posted by auntheather in Education & Learning,Family,Milestone,News,Observation & Imagination,Video Games & Games and have No Comments

Buckwheat Pancakes

I think children are like pancakes.  You sort of ruin the first one, and you get better at it the second time around.  ~Kelly Ripa

Bill,-Denise,-Zack-Aunt-Heather-Piper

My cousins Bill, Denise & Zach Olczak

Two Sunday’s ago, mom made the batter for buckwheat pancakes.  I totally love buckwheat pancakes!  They are a little bit thinner and crispier than regular pancakes and in my opinion they have a hardier taste.  What’s the difference between regular pancakes and buckwheat cakes?  Basically the buckwheat.  So next question what is buckwheat?  Truthfully, I had no idea so I did a little digging around.  Naturally, I did what every person sitting at a computer does, I Google’d it.  In my little bit of reading, and we all know the internet doesn’t lie or contain false information, (sarcasm) I found that buckwheat is a fruit off of a plant.  Then it’s ground down into flower.  It’s considered a hardy and nutritious fruit, rich with omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, minerals and essential amino acids.  I also read:

“Buckwheat is a member of the grass family whose seed is high in calcium. Buckwheat seeds are ground whole into a flour before used in cereal, which result in the appearance of small, black specks in flakes. Buckwheat is gluten-free.”

Does all that really mean a lot to me?  Yes and no.  I already liked the pancakes prior to this knowledge and if buckwheat wasn’t really healthy, I still wouldn’t give it up, just be mindful.  Of course, with this knowledge tucked away in my brain, it actually causes more damage.  Now I have it in my head that I can eat the entire batch, which is not healthy either.

So why the rediscovery for buckwheat pancakes?  Pretty simple actually.  Dad just purchased the buckwheat flour with the intent of making buckwheat pancakes.  The entire family is a fan of the hardy food, well Kyle is he just forgot.  Did the internet tell me this piece of information?  Nope, I actually have proof on this statement.  Every year, we try to make it to the Flax Scutching Festival, (65th Annual Piper Reunion) where incidentally they sell buckwheat pancakes.  So I know Kyle has tasted buckwheat over the years and if he disliked it in any way, we would have heard about it.  Kyle is not shy about voicing his opinion.  Yep, we are all fans of buckwheat!

Being a little unsure about the buckwheat pancakes, Kyle helped me flip them anyway.  Partially because he takes pride in trying new foods and experimenting with cooking methods, and because he really enjoys cooking with me.  I must admit, it has become a favorite of mine too.   Mom mixed up the batter the night before and Kyle helped me man the griddle, well he started to for a little bit until he helped himself to the fresh hot cakes with maple syrup while I finished up.  On a side note, nothing beats real maple syrup, 100% genuine maple syrup!  I don’t really care for the store brands that are loaded with a list of ingredients.  Anyway, I don’t mind cooking at all, plus it gave mom a break, considering she definitely has more hours invested in front of the stove than I do.  But no matter who’s cooking, the conversations seem to surface.  While I was standing there flipping the cakes, I was talking to mom about the best pancakes in history, courtesy of my uncle Walter.

Uncle-Walter-&-Crew-Aunt-Heather-Piper

Uncle Walter & Family. My grandpap Chester is on the far right

My uncle Walter was one of my grandpap Chester’s brothers.  He was truly a great guy!  Uncle Walter lived down the hill from us on the farm and was a huge part of our lives.  He had cows and chickens and he made hay, just a simple farm boy.  Not to mention he and my aunt Mary had a greenhouse where they sold soil and plants.  In his younger days, uncle Walter was a merchant marine in the navy.  His job?  A cook of course!  There is no doubt those guys were very well fed!  I’m sure Uncle Walter’s life reads like an impressive resume, but I just wanted to give a synopsis.

As mom and I stood there babysitting the buckwheat pancakes, I brought up one of our trips to Erie, that’s where the story of the best blueberry pancakes takes place.  My cousin’s Bill and Denise live in Erie, Pennsylvania.  Casey’s dad, Jim and Bill are brothers, both sons of my Uncle Walter.  They are all on my mom’s side of the family.  One weekend, all of us including my cousin Casey’s crew and my whole family took a road trip to visit that branch of the family.

It was so much fun!  We went to Presque Isle and ran around on the beach.  We hung out at Bill and Denise’s and fished from their pond off the dock,  paddled the canoe around the water (being mindful of the drain), checked out the beavers living near the water and visited their goats.  Incidentally, that was the first time I ever had goat milk.  I am not a milk drinker but that trip opened my eyes to the love of goat cheese and ever since then, I am a dedicated fan and advocate.  At the time, I don’t remember if they had their horses, but it certainly was an adventure.  Even down to the sleeping arrangements.  Since there were so many of us, all the kids camped out in tents in the yard, making the trip even more exciting and fun.

Mom-&-Dad-at-Bill-&-Denise-7-4-85-Aunt-Heather-Piper

Mom & dad sitting by the pond at Bill & Denise’s 7/4/85

That Saturday morning, I remember waking up early to the smell of breakfast, blueberry pancakes!  To this day I can describe the fluffy spongy texture of the pancake that encapsulated the juicy sweet blueberries, perfectly spread throughout the circular treat.  As uncle Walter flipped the hot cakes, I stood behind watching his technique.  I was amazed that they never stuck and the pancakes seemed to be perfectly round.  As I was staring, uncle Walter just gave me a smile and asked if I wanted some.  To be honest I was just content watching him make the pancakes, although they smelled so good my stomach told me differently.  What I really wanted to do was assist him, but I didn’t want to screw up his system.  In no time at all, I gave in to hunger and ate my beautifully sweet, heavenly blueberry pancakes.  To this day, I just remember how awesome they were!  No other pancake has touch his, ever!  I’m sure there were other meals that weekend, and I’m sure uncle Walter helped out, but nothing stood out in my head like those pancakes, except maybe the introduction of goat cheese.

With all the running around and the excitement of hanging out with family, we had a great weekend!  Ever since that weekend in July 1985, 27 years ago, we kept saying we are going to head back up and visit Bill and Denise.  But alas we never made the time.  I think we are past due, and this spring Bill and Denise are going to get some visitors, including one who’s never been to Erie, our little Kyle.

Uncle-Walter-Aunt-Heather-Piper

Uncle Walter with one of his five kids

Just to give a short bio on Bill and Denise.  Besides being a pillar in the community, they are great role models and a testament of what one family and one dream can become.  Even though the desire and knowledge to start Mystic Mountain was always in their hearts, it didn’t come into fruition until 2001.  They opened Mystic Mountain Training Center, a nonprofit organization for children and families to learn mentoring, discipleship, and teamwork.  So what do they do?  Besides offering equestrian, shooting, and drama, they inspire and bring families together.  I can’t image growing up and not knowing what the countryside is like or riding a horse.  Bill and Denise developed programs to bring inner city kids to Mystic Mountain to experience all the benefits of God’s country and the beasts of the earth.  I believe being a part of nature, especially being around horses energizes the soul and helps to develop a new respect for life.  Keep up the good work guys!

CampStaffNCounselors Aunt Heather Piper

Mystic Mountain Training Center

Interested in experiencing Mystic Mountain Training Center for yourself or would like to make a donation?  They would love to hear from you.   Go to www.mysticmtc.com.  Tell Bill and Denise Aunt Heather sent you!

posted by auntheather in Common Sense,Cooking with Kyle,Education & Learning,Family,Milestone,Observation & Imagination,Reminiscing,Travels and have No Comments
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