"Zoogler" revolution gains momentum

Google takes the informal approach to meeting rooms

Internet search engine Google has witnessed spectacular growth during its ten-year history and nowhere more so than at its Zurich base established in 2004.

This content was published on October 20, 2008 - 11:59

The number of Zooglers, as Zurich staff are known, has doubled in the past year to more than 400 to make it Google's biggest engineering hub outside the United States. Expansion resulted in a move to larger premises earlier this year.

The new custom-made premises on the site of a former brewery - complete with fireman's pole, table football games and gondola meeting "rooms" – is a far cry from Zurich's first Google office.

Tom Hanan, Google's sales manager for Switzerland, was one of the original Zooglers. "I remember that we were all on our knees putting together the Ikea furniture in our first official Google office in Limmatquai on the first day," he told swissinfo.

"It was hard to envision us growing so quickly. My personal feeling was that we would hang out for years at Limmatquai. But I quickly learned it did not make sense to keep unpacking my cardboard boxes as we were moving location quite fast."

Google celebrated its tenth anniversary in September and part of its rapid success can be put down to a decision to diversify its operations from its headquarters in Mountain View, California.


The move to Zurich was initiated by the company's vice-president of engineering, Urs Hölzle, who is a graduate of the city's Federal Institute of Technology. Zurich recruiter Randy Knaflic explained Google's reasons for expanding out of the US.

"We knew that there were a lot of great engineers around and they don't all live in California. But we did not want to just plant this American company in different locations, so we took on aspects of Swiss culture and other things, such as cuisine, that are very specific to this office," he told swissinfo.

"We have engineers from over 40 nationalities, which is testament to the fact that Zurich is a great place to attract people to. We are able to leverage Google as a way of introducing people to one of the greatest cities in the world."

Zurich's attractions as a place to work are well documented: a high quality of life, excellent infrastructure and transport links, proximity to world renowned educational and research institutions and a generous tax regime for foreign companies.

But Google employees also benefit from a unique work atmosphere that encourages informality, open communication and creativity.

Staff can unwind with a massage, a stint in the aquarium-lined water lounge or with a game of table football in the play room. Work can be carried out in a mock library and meetings are routinely held in recycled gondolas or in igloos.

Getting noticed

Different floors have a beach, forest or Swiss theme that can be reached by stairs, lifts or the more unconventional methods of a slide or fireman's pole. These unusual features were incorporated into the building after staff submitted their suggestions to a psychologist.

"We are pretty unique if you compare this working environment to any other office in Switzerland. Every employee has passion - they are like their own CEO of the area they work in," said Hanan. "Of all the Google offices I have seen this is a really cool one."

Zooglers have played an important role in designing the maps and flight simulator for Google Earth – a virtual globe that allows users to zoom in on any place on the planet via their computer screens.

"It takes time to understand the massive technical environment at Google. As our maturity starts to evolve in Zurich, people will gain a better understanding of how to navigate this technical environment. It is only then that you can start to make even greater impact," said Knaflic.

"It is great from a visibility standpoint that our mass of talent here is starting to get noticed with the projects we are working on."

swissinfo, Matthew Allen in Zurich

Google in Zurich

Tom Hanan was the first Google employee in Zurich – operating from his own home at the start of 2004 - but was soon joined by an engineer in a small office. Urs Hölzle regularly visited Zurich from Google's Mountain View HQ.

As staff increased, a bigger office was found in the city centre location of Limmatquai and then moved to larger premises in the Zurich Enge district.

In March of this year, Zooglers packed their bags yet again to move to the purpose built office on the Hürlimmann-Areal complex – the site of a former brewery. In four and a half years, staff numbers have increased from one to more than 400. The new building has space for double that number.

Google's European headquarters are located in Dublin, but Zurich is the biggest engineering hub outside the US.

Technology firm Microsoft opened an innovation centre in Zurich in 2006 while computer company IBM have been present on the outskirts of the city since 1962.

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Google is a US-based internet search engine that generates revenues from advertising. It was co-founded by former Stanford University students Larry page and Sergey Brin and first appeared as a private company in September 1998.

The company listed on the stock exchange in 2004 and was worth $23 billion (SFr26 billion) at the time. Last year its market capitalisation value was nearing $200 billion.

It has more than 50 offices in 200 countries and employed 19,604 full-time staff at June 30 this year.

In 2004 Google launched its own free email service called Gmail and bought up a company that had developed a virtual globe programme, that became Google Earth two years later.

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