Meet Steve Vinter, site director at Google Cambridge

Meet Steve Vinter, site director at Google Cambridge

Steve Vinter is the site director for our Cambridge office. We sat down with him to learn a bit more about his background, some of his favorite parts of his job and what makes Google Cambridge unique. Oh yeah - we also talked ping pong and Nerf guns (because they’re awesome).

What do you do at Google Cambridge?

Steve Vinter: I’m the site director, responsible for growing the office and ensuring that we do quality work and have a great place to work – everything from who we hire to what we work on to where people sit. And I’m an engineering director, responsible for developing digital publishing products. One is Google eBooks, which builds on work we’ve done on Book Search. The other is Google Currents, which gives users their favorite content from across the web in a magazine format.

What did you do before joining Google Cambridge?

Steve: I was in development for a variety of software companies, taught distributed computing and imaging at Tufts University, and was a scientist at a technology R&D company.

And when did you first get into computers?

Steve: I took a class in BASIC in high school. I loved it. It was easy and natural for me, and I ended up helping half the kids in the class.

Where did you go to school? What did you study?

Steve: I got a BS in computer science and statistics from the University of Michigan and a PhD in computer science from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. This was way before the Internet. As an undergrad I worked on an IBM System/360 40 mainframe and a Digital Equipment Corporation PDP-11, programming in Fortran and assembly language. In grad school, I got interested in object-oriented design and distributed systems, which evolved into the Internet and web we know today.

What do you like most about your job?

Steve: It’s exciting to work on products used by millions of people around the world, for a company that’s part of the broader culture.

I also love the complex technical challenges. How do you categorize and rank the millions of new images uploaded to the web every day? How do you organize and make accessible hundreds of millions of books? Between the ambiguity of a rapidly changing digital landscape, huge data-scaling issues, and usability issues, the problems we solve are immense.

And when it comes to coworkers, there’s a big difference between “I like them” and “they’re amazing.” Googlers are amazing. It’s satisfying to be in a position to watch people come into the company and be successful, to see a Noogler gain confidence and make an impact.

Word on the street is that you’re pretty good at ping pong.

Steve: I played a lot growing up, but when I joined the office league and ended up beating everyone on-site, it was considered a minor miracle because I’m so old. Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to play visiting luminaries like Governor Deval Patrick and Salman Rushdie, which has been thrilling. I beat them both.

What’s your favorite thing about Google Cambridge?

Steve: We’re proud of our nurturing environment, but what makes us different is that we know how to have fun. From Nerf Dart wars and pie-eating contests to the ping pong league and our collection of board games, it’s a constant theme. We’re 20 times bigger than we were five years ago, but people still really like working here.

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