Google Looking to Grow in Chicago

Transparency Report team watched Egyptian traffic dive during unrest

By Charlie Wojciechowski
|  Thursday, Mar 10, 2011  |  Updated 7:00 PM CDT
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Internet giant is looking to grow a number of projects that are based at its <a title=Chicago regional headquarters." />

Internet giant is looking to grow a number of projects that are based at its Chicago regional headquarters.

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As protesters took to the streets of Cairo in January, some of the first videos of the Egyptian revolution were carried around the world on YouTube.   Then when the government of then-President Hosni Mubarak cracked down, one of the first things it did was cut off that country’s access to the Internet.

All the while, Brian Fitzpatrick was watching from his standup desk at Google's regional headquarters in Chicago

Fitzpatrick is the lead engineer on Google’s Transparency Report team, which monitors Internet traffic to Google's product sites like YouTube and Blogger.  In January, he saw the always-fluctuating traffic on his computer screen drop to almost zero.

"What it looks like is you see kind of a heartbeat,” Fitzpatrick said.  "Then suddenly it’s almost like a flat line."

Google’s Transparency Report has become an important tool for reporters and academics who monitor access to information around the world.

"It’s all about free expression to us," he said.

The Windy City is also home to Google’s Data Liberation project, which ensures that the data you put into the company’s products like Picasa, Blogger and Gmail can easily be moved if you decide to stop using Google.

The project bucks the practice so common in the software industry of storing consumer data in proprietary formats that are difficult to convert.

"We want you to stay with Google," Fitzpatrick said.  'But if you want to leave we want to make it easy to leave because we want you to come back tomorrow and try our next product."

To support these products, the company is looking to expand its presence with a major hiring spree that could see hundreds of new jobs.

"This is going to be the biggest hiring year in Google’s history, said its first Chicago employee, Kevin Willer. He said the company is looking to expand its ranks of engineers and sales people in an effort to meet what he calls "aggressive goals."

Why is Google hiring when so many other companies are not?

"We have a lot of momentum, more than ever before," Willer said.  "And we’ve got to bring more people in."

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