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Trading North Quad for the North Pole

Winter 2015

google santa trackerFor most people, 2:00 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time on December 24 usually involves frenzied last-minute mall sprints, thawing turkeys, and paper cuts from wrapping thousands of presents. For a small team of Googlers, it’s the culmination of months of design rounds, code freezes, and late-night videoconferences with cups of midnight eggnog. Why? Because 2:00 am PDT marks the moment when Santa begins his annual journey around the globe. At that very early hour, I open my laptop and join a videoconference with people around the world, from Sydney to San Francisco, making sure that kids everywhere can keep tabs on Santa’s travels with Google’s Santa Tracker: We make sure the big man’s travels—from Provideniya, Russia, to Mahajanga, Madagascar—can be followed on the dedicated website, with the app on the Android phone, or on TV with Chromecast. A quick click provides kids of all ages with: • Real-time location updates of Santa’s flight pathsanta tracker • His real-time jolly status (“mmm, those cookies were delicious!”) • Number of presents delivered • Street View of one of the cities he’s visited so far December 24 may be the day of Santa’s flight, but our story starts on December 1 when Santa’s Village opens on Santa Tracker. Set up like an advent calendar, each day reveals skydiving Santas, gift catapults, and elves in jetpacks as the world’s northernmost village preps for Santa’s global journey. But let’s be clear about something—no one creates Santa’s route. Our team uses the most advanced mapping technologies to track the path that Santa and the elves have plotted. This necessitates coordination between a variety of Santa-loving entities at Google: Maps, Search, Chrome, YouTube, PR, Rudolph, and Developer platforms, to name a few. (Turns out all those debates in Professor Jack Pitney’s Congress class, paired with late-night banter at TNC, provided me with good practice in the negotiation and decision-making necessary to succeed on a large cross-functional team. Somehow that didn’t come up during the Congress simulation!) As the marketing lead for Santa Tracker, I feel pretty darn lucky that this is a core piece of my position with Google. As a Government and History major, though, following Jolly Old St. Nick for a tech company wasn’t exactly what I anticipated as I walked onto Pritzlaff Field for graduation in May 2010. Thankfully, someone was right when they told my parents that a liberal arts education prepares you for a gamut of occupations. Coupling that education with time teaching kids for Teach for America gave me solid preparation for some serious Santa Tracking. My history major has been incredibly helpful to what I do. Many an afternoon was spent in the stacks piecing together artifacts to build an argument for Professor Lisa Cody’s class on the history of Medieval Europe. All those hours led to an understanding of what makes a story. The ability to step back from the moving parts, see how they fit together, and then create a cohesive narrative came as a result of reading hundreds of stories, passages, and books … thanks Dr. Cody. When December 25 arrives and Santa leaves for his extended vacation, Google’s Santa Tracking Team disbands to their normal day jobs. Fortunately, the storytelling and people skills honed at CMC continue to be useful outside of happy hour and in my other roles. I’ve been lucky enough to work on other storytelling projects like hiding Pokemon in Google Maps for April Fool’s and strapping the Street View camera to a raft floating down the Colorado River and to a backpack traversing Angkor Wat, Cambodia. What’s next? Working on getting Elf View into Street View!   Russell is a Product Marketing Manager for Google Maps.