Google CEO Sundar Pichai is currently one the most important men in tech. He heads one of the world’s largest companies, rubs shoulders with global leaders, and determines policies that will shape the world in the years to come. But only 12 years ago, Pichai was just another engineer, interviewing at this hot startup called Google.
In a recent visit to IIT Kharagpur, his former college, Pichai recounted what it had been like to interview at Google in 2004. His first interview, as it turned out, was scheduled on 1st April. Now Google is infamous for its April Fools Pranks – it has released several fake products on the date, including an app to talk to your pets, fictitious energy drinks, and even fake contests.
In a quirk of history, Google had also announced Gmail, its email service on 1st April, 2004. Gmail was intended to be a wholly serious product, but its feature of offering 1GB of free space, when competitors like Hotmail were then offering only 2MB, led many to think it was another one of Google’s pranks.
Including Sundar Pichai.
When interviewers asked him what he thought of Gmail, Pichai thought he was being pranked. “I hadn’t had a chance to use it, I thought it was an April fool’s joke,” he said. Pichai says that during the first three interviews, when the interviewers asked him about Gmail, he had trouble answering because he hadn’t used the product. “It was only in the fourth interview when someone asked me if I’d seen Gmail, and I told them I hadn’t. That’s when they showed it to me,” he laughs. When the fifth interviewer asked him what he thought of Gmail, he was able to start answering that question For the next four interviews, he was able to able to tell his interviewers what he thought of Gmail, and how to improve it.
Pichai had had only had a cursory look through Gmail, but the interviewers were clearly impressed with his insights. Pichai was impressed with Google as well. “Someone in the middle (of the interviews) took me to eat ice cream, which showed me Google was a very very different place,” he says.
Pichai was eventually hired, becoming roughly the 1000th person to be hired by Google. Eleven years later, he would quickly rise up the ranks to become its CEO.