Stories from Google Desktop Search

by Niniane Wang
written July 28, 2005

The first three months...

The code name for our project was Total Recall. Steve bought a poster of the movie off eBay and hung it up near our cubicles.

Our team consisted of five engineers. We were a close-knit bunch. In the first 3 months, we hashed out what we would build, wrote 13 design docs, and implemented most of the features of the product. It was one of the most productive 3 months of my career. This was our team:
Steve me Omar Mihai Dave M.
and our program manager Nikhil:

Friday, December 12, 2003, 5:40pm

Driving back from the weekly company TGIF. That week, they passed out T-shirts celebrating our chef Charlie. He had been the chef for the Grateful Dead, so the T-shirt said, "Charlie, serving Grateful Googlers since 1999".

However, we arrived a little late, and only the women's sizes were left. As we left afterwards to go back to work, we noticed that Dave was holding a woman's T-shirt.

Me: Dave, why did you pick up a women's T-shirt at TGIF?

Dave: This is my plan.
 Step 1, Pick up a woman's size T-shirt.
 Step 2, Find a woman.


Me: It's good that they didn't give away diapers, Dave. Then you'd have to go through the work of making a baby.

Steve Lawrence: (indignantly, with Australian accent) It's no' work! It only takes a few minutes!

Spring 2004

By the start of 2004, we moved from the old dark "startup"-feeling buildings to the bright airy SGI buildings. We were also joined by more engineers:
David B Sergey Chris Andrew
Friday, February 06, 2004

We're eating lunch at the new cafe.

Dave M: "Canadian lifeguards put US lifeguards to shame. The US ones just run around on the beach. As documented in Baywatch."

Chris: "Ah, I love documentaries."

Thursday, February 19, 2004

In the spring, we were joined by an intern from Dartmouth named Todor, who worked on our team, and an intern from University of Waterloo named Mark Cook, who worked in the research team but sat in our cubicles and hung out with us as much as with his own team.

Todor Mark Cook
Todor wrote rap songs (primarily in Bulgarian) in his spare time and promised he would write a song about our team.

Chris: So Todor, you're writing that rap song about our team.

Omar: Yeah, what was it called? Todor Recall?

March 7, 2004

A few of us decided to take a trip to San Francisco one weekend. The interns wanted to see the city. We went to Golden Gate Bridge, and then walked around Chinatown and Little Italy.

On the drive up to the city, we were listening to a song where a rapper asks God to find him a woman. It ends in a rather vague way.

God? God? Damn, you're a woman? God... I need a bitch. At this point I'm not
asking for much, just a sweet bitch ya know? She don't even have to have a big
ol booty. Just something real nice, well proportioned to her body. Cuz I know I
ain't perfect my damn self. What? You got someone for me? Aww... Thank you God.
You're the best God. Ahh man! I mean... Ahh lady!  

Me: So God does find him a woman?

Mark: No, because God is not kind. God is a mean-ass motherfucker.

Todor: In this song, God is a woman.

Mark: Bitches can still fuck their mothers.

All the rest of us: [speechless with horror]

... After many seconds ...

Several of us: Oh my God!

Me: I didn't think so many offensive things could be represented with just 6 words.

Chris: You could put that dialogue on a web page, with the words bleeped out. [bleep] can still [bleep] their [bleep]. And no matter what people mentally filled in the blanks with, the actual thing would have been worse.


Later that day, we're walking up a hill when we see a beautiful church in the distance, with reflective steeples, ornate walls and doors...

Mark: [looking up, sees the church] That's one hell of a church.

Chris: I want to create a book with all the things that Mark Cook says.

Todor: It'd be called the Mark

Friday, March 19, 2004

Eating dinner at the cafe. I have a guest, Eileen, my friend from college days at Caltech, who was at the time working for Oracle. We ate with Steve, who then left to go back to work.

Me: Steve Lawrence is awesome.

Eileen: Yeah. We need to create an award -- The Steve Lawrence Award.

Me: Awarded annually to the person most similar to Steve Lawrence.
1999 recipient: Steve Lawrence
2000 recipient: Steve Lawrence
2001 recipient: Steve Lawrence

Eileen: But I'm going for it this year!
2004 recipient: Eileen Hiromura

March 2004

One day, we are sitting at lunch, and I'm eating a slice of chocolate pecan pie.

Me: Pie is so great! If I had pie every day for the rest of my life, I would be a happy person.

Steve: If you fix all of your bugs, I will give you one thousand pies.

Me: Don't make promises you can't keep, Steve.

Steve: Hm, yes, I should restate. If you fix all of your bugs by tomorrow, I will give you one thousand pies. Wait, how much do pies cost?

Me: 10, 15 bucks.

Steve: [does some mental computations] Ten pies. If you fix all of your bugs by tomorrow, I'll give you ten pies.

Me: Oh really?

Steve: [slightly concerned] How many bugs do you have?

Me: Fifteen.

Steve: [confidently] Yes, ten pies.

Me: Okay, you're on.

Chris: Wait, now, it shouldn't be all-or-nothing. We should say that if Niniane fixes 5 bugs in one day, you give her 1 pie. 10 bugs, 2 pies. All 15, then you give her 10 pies.

Steve and me: Okay, that sounds reasonable.

Omar: What about new bugs that come in?

Steve: Those don't count.

Me: Okay, it's 1pm right now. The bet ends at 1pm tomorrow. Let's shake on it. [shake hands with Steve] Okay, I'll see you guys later! I have some bugs to fix!

I dash off. The next 24 hours are a steady progression of bug fixing. By dinnertime (8pm), I've fixed about 6 bugs. A few of us are discussing the bet.

Chris: You should fix the easy ones first, so that you can be guaranteed 2 pies.

Me: No, I should fix the hard ones first, when I'm not as tired.

Chris: Oho! That must mean you're going for all 10 pies!

Everyone begins to leave work. By 2am, I am the only person left. From 4am to 7am, I took a nap in the massage room down the hall. When I emerge, bleary-eyed, Steve is already back at work and shocked to find me.

Steve: Niniane! You're here so early!

Me: No, I didn't leave. Don't you see I'm wearing the same clothes?

Steve: [looks at the bug count] Oh no! I better take longer to do the code reviews!

By noon, I'd fixed all 15 bugs. Two new "non-pie" bugs had come in during the 24 hours, and I fixed them too for good measure, for a total of 17 by 12:50pm.

Steve had a graph that tracked everyone's bug count over time. Because it didn't handle the case where the bug count is 0, my graph line disappeared from the chart. So the next bug fix immediately following the bet was from Steve, to fix his script to handle 0.

Over the next months, Steve bought me a number of pies:

Pie #1: berry #2: apple #3: pumpkin #4: custard #5: pumpkin for Hallowen

March, 2004

Around this time, we had the "upholstery" incident. Desktop Search inserts a Onebox by using a Winsock LSP. We installed the debug version of our product for a few beta testers around the company.

At the time, Onebox results sometimes came back too slowly, so we inserted a line "query timed out" in ugly grey font where the Onebox should've appeared. Unfortunately, we didn't do enough explanation so that they understood this only appeared for them because they had our product installed...

One day, we go to a meeting and come back to find a flurry of emails:

"A debug line is appearing on!  Our users are seeing this!  We must
do an emergency push to fix this!"

"I can't reproduce it!  It's not appearing on my machine."

"I got it when I searched for upholstery.  Do a search for upholstery!"

"I did and still can't reproduce it."

March 31, 2004

A few of us eating dinner in the cafe.

me: I feel like we'll look back on this as one of the best times of our lives. Working for a company that's fun and silly, with a great team, and great project.

Mihai and Chris: [nodding]

me: We should live each day as though it were our last.

Chris: [turns to Mihai] I love you, Mihai.

Mihai: [smiling] I love you too, Chris.

me: It's good that your love is reciprocated.

Mihai: Yes, it's not as good when the other person says, 'Thank you' and offers to shake your hand.

April 5, 2004

We had a goodbye dinner for Todor when he went back after his first internship.

During dinner, Chris kept urging Mark to eat more. So I asked him if he was fattening up Mark in order to eat him. This turned into a big running joke where we talked every day at lunch about how we would cook him, what kind of sauce we would use, who would get to eat him, what side dishes we would eat him with, etc.

One night, at a party, a cluster of us are standing around with Mark, talking about our favorite topic of how to eat him. Larry Page, our company co-founder, walks up.

Larry: What are you guys talking about?

A brief silence.

Me: We were talking about eating Mark Cook. [gestures toward Mark]

Larry: [momentarily surprised] Oh. Well, I suppose there's nothing in the employee handbook about that. [to Mark] I can't do anything for you unless they actually eat you.

The next day...

Me: [to Steve] You missed a good party. Oh, by the way, I told Larry about our plan to eat Mark.

Steve: [voice rising a couple of notes] Which Larry?

Me: You know, Larry Page.

Steve: [voice rises an octave] What???


May, 2004

One day, we walk into the micro-kitchen to find a post-it note on an empty food bin:

"Has insects.

then in a different ink color and hand-writing below,

"Why not?"

I laughed very hard at this.

Mark: "They might've started out with just a sign that said DO NOT EAT."

Chris: "We need to put that sign on Mark's chair."

May 13, 2004

It is the end of Mark's internship. The time of eating him has drawn near. One day, we went to Baskin-Robbins for Free Cone Day and I noticed a special feature of their cakes. Hence...

So we ate Mark Cook.


A couple of weeks later, I'm at another party with Larry Page. Steve had made a big deal about how telling him about eating Mark was inappropriate, but I figure that since any damage (in the eyes of Steve) was already done, I might as well update Larry on the amusing conclusion with the cake.

Me: [to Larry] So, remember how I told you about how we would eat our intern Mark?

Larry: No.

... The next day, at work:

me: [to Steve] Funny thing last night. So I went to tell Larry about eating Mark with the cake, and it turns out he had already forgotten about the whole thing! But by bringing it up, I reminded him again.

Steve: [laser beams shooting out of eyes]


Friday, May 28, 2004

Steve liked to put up monitors displaying our bug charts, videos that he'd taken at off-sites or at team meetings, etc.

One day, a helpdesk person walks by, pushing a cart with monitors. Looks lost, stops near our cubes.

Helpdesk person to Steve: "Can I leave this here? Will you watch over it?"

Steve: (perkily) "Yes, sure!"

Helpdesk guy walks away.

Andrew: "Did they just leave Steve a monitor?"

Chris: "Yes, 'Steve, can you watch this monitor?' That's like 'Niniane, can you watch this pie? Omar, can you watch this bottle of wine?'"

Omar: "They're going to come back and the monitor will be up there [gestures to window with Steve's two other monitors showing videos and graphs] and it'll be playing a video ... of them leaving the monitor. Big text: 'YOU FOOLS'."

Summer 2004

In the summer, we were joined by John, an Egyptian from U of Waterloo who loves shisha more than his own life, and Kevin, an intern from MIT:

John Kevin
We also started to work heavily with our testers: Anna, Ankit, Mohammed, Shama, ... I don't have enough pictures of them, so you must use your imagination there.

In July, I convinced most of the team to come with me for manicures and pedicures. (I am quite proud of my persuasive abilities in convincing a bunch of male engineers to come to a nail salon.) Here is a picture of me, Dave, Kevin, and Andrew's girlfriend Jennifer:

August 2004

Andrew bought a blue bean-bag / pillow ball from Macy's. You can see it here on Chris's head.

It was soft and comfortable, and I liked sitting on it, so I named it the Ass Ball. Although Andrew only allowed me to sit on it once, after which he announced that "the ass ball is not for sitting". I also liked holding it against my belly while I typed.

Steve: Ass-ball. Is that the brand name? [does Google search for "ass ball"]

... Page after page of porn results show up on the screen ...

Steve: [embarrassed] Oh my God!

Me: Steve! I can't believe you forced me to look at this type of content at work!

August 1, 2004

Me: [motioning for Chris to throw me the Ass Ball]

Chris: [throws it. It lands four feet away, halfway between us.]

Me: You throw like a girl.

Chris: Oh, that's it. Throw it back over here.

Me: Why, you want to watch me throw so you can throw more like me?

August 3, 2004

some other coworkers down the hall: Oh, I love your shoes!

Andrew; [mimicking them in a derogatory fashion] O-oh, I lo-ove your shoes!

Chris: [snickering]

Me: What's wrong with you guys?

Andrew: Some people are just too into fashion.

Me: So what? What are you going to do, throw the Ass Ball at them for being caring about fashion?

Chris: Great idea! Let's throw the Ass Ball at them! But we need a way to get it back.

Me: Why don't you attach a rope so you can pull it back. Then it becomes the Ass Ball and Chain.

August 6, 2004

We decide to send out beta invitations to trusted people outside of the company.

Me: Nikhil, how are you deciding who to send out beta invitations to?

Nikhil: I'm sending it to everyone who's ever sent me an e-mail.

Me: An e-mail about Total Recall?

Nikhil: No, an e-mail about anything.

John: So all these Nigerians are installing it right now?

August 19, 2004

Bug triage meeting.

Mihai: We need to change the name from Total Recall to Google Desktop Search. This includes the install directory, start menu, web pages ...

Omar: The registry.

Andrew: We only need to change the user visible places.

Steve: I look in the registry sometimes.

John: Then how about the mutex names?

September 10, 2004

Most of the company has installed our product.

We attend TGIF, where Nikhil and Michael (technical editor) dance around in bright pink fluffy-bunny outfits as a gimmick to get more people to help us beta test.

Sergey Brin: Nikhil is going to wear that bunny suit until they ship the product.

I return to my desk to find in my e-mail:
[Bug 48862 New] don't wear the same bunny suit continuously until ship

I open the bug to read:
Description: instead switch between the two bunny suits, so one can be washed while the other is worn

September 21, 2004

Bug triage, conference calling Omar in New York.

Omar: This phone is terrible. You all sound like robots.

John: (very poor robot imitation) I AM A ROBOT.

DaveM: (with much better robot imitation) WHAT IS YOUR COMMAND.

John: My robot is more advanced. It sounds more like a human.

October, 2004

At dinner, discussing Halloween costumes.

Me: We could dress up as vegetables. Andrew, you can be a mushroom! (Andrew hates mushrooms.)

Andrew: I knew that was coming.

Me: John would be corn. Mihai can be broccoli. I would be ...

Ben Davenport: You can be chinese broccoli.


John: We can dress up as dictators.

Unnamed guy: Foreign or domestic?


Andrew: Last Halloween I was a pilot, and I had eight stewardesses with me.

Me: Wow! How did you manage that?

Andrew: It was me. It didn't take very long.

Me: Was Jennifer jealous?

Andrew: Yeah! It was right before we started dating.

Me: Did she do anything to make you jealous?

Andrew: [thinks for a while] Yeah, actually, she met some guy at a wedding and told me about it. She called me up at 3 in the morning!

Ben: Anyone who calls you at 3 in the morning is into you.

John: Except to say 'You're a bastard; I hate you.'

Ben: Or 'The content ad mixer is down.'


Mihai: So how do you make someone jealous?

Me: Well, there's lots of ways. The easiest way is to talk to them excitedly about how great someone else is. ... But you have to hook them first.

Mihai: Ok, let's say you see someone, how do you hook them?

Me: Well, you go up and say hello --

Andrew: That's it. You do this a million times and hope for the person who says, 'You had me at hello.'

October 14, 2004

We launched the public beta at the Digital Life conference in New York:

Winning the "Best PC tool" award:


Me with fun conference attendees:



The end of the road...

Steve's baby was born on October 7:

and then a week later, Steve's other baby came into the world in the form of

And now we've come to the end of the road ... for me, at least. Desktop Search has continued to grow and blossom, but I've moved on to lead the Gmail ads team.

It was a beautiful year. Together we went through births, deaths, breakups, and new beginnings. As a Simpsons quote said, "It was the best of times, it was the blurst of times." I will always love the Total Recall team dearly, and hold a special place in my heart for the experiences that we shared.


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