Cultivating Innovation

Vinay Goel, Head – Products, Google India

Sometimes, it is amazing to hear about engineering innovations. I thought developing software to crawl and search the Internet was pretty cool, but, take this – Google’s latest research initiative is to build a self-driving robot car. Recently it announced that Google-brain powered artificially intelligent software had driven modified Toyota Prius vehicles for over 1,000-miles without any human intervention. As part of a test drive, a Google-car even drove down Lombard Street in San Francisco, one of curviest roads in the U.S, without any glitches. The question is – how does Google manage such mind-blowing innovations?

Culture of innovation

Vinay Goel believes that innovation at Google happens thanks to two fundamental reasons – hiring the right people who are passionate about solving problems and then giving them freedom to go after ideas, however crazy they are. Several Google engineers and product managers spend 20 per cent of their time working on pet projects. Though it is not mandatory, several employees take up the offer and many Google products we hear about today, started off as employee pet-projects. Once a Googler is convinced about the idea he/ she is working on – he/she could either try to get management to buy-in or continue working on it as a pet project. The person is free to rope in other Googlers to contribute their 20 per cent free time towards the project as well. Goel says, “Hiring is top-priority at Google. The bar is fairly high, but, in the end it is the entrepreneurial nature of our employees that produces some of our best products.”

Google Maps

One of the core innovations that came out of the Bengaluru office was the Map Maker project, a part of Google Maps. The fundamental problem in mapping India was that there was tremendous development resulting in new additions ofa addresses, roads and buildings. It was impossible to finalise on a map of India, so Google India designed the Map Maker. It is a product that enables users to name roads, mark buildings and even indicate if a road is one-way or two-way. It opened up the ‘Mapping India’ project to users and this proved to be very useful. Though driving directions are still mediocre, updates are happening real time and Google India believes it is the way to go for this project. Google’s fundamental mission is to organise the world’s information and present it to users in the most usable form. Most Google projects are aligned to this mission, and Google Maps is one such project.

Google Languages

“We decided to take a broad approach to the whole language problem. The overall mission was to make the world’s information universally acceptable. Cracking the language barrier was critical to make our properties available to a larger number of users,” says Goel. Google India today, works on making many of its properties including search, mail and maps available in several local languages. It has created a translation tool to translate some of the content online into local languages. Typing in local languages with an English keyboard has been made available as well. The fundamental mission was to provide access to a larger pool of users.

Google’s product strategy in India

When queried about the vision for Google India, Goel says, “I can already see the trends. While Internet penetration is already fairly high in the developed world, countries like India and China present an opportunity for further growth. Eventually, a large percentage of our users for any product is going to come from these two markets. Our strategy is to fine-tune our product strategy, localise and personalise keeping these countries in mind.”