Cool Job: I Code Easter Eggs & Games on Google Search

6 minutes

Every so often, when you search specific terms or topics on Google, you’ll find a delightfully surprising feature called an Easter egg. Search puppy,” for instance, and you can click the paw icon in the right-hand panel to see a puppy paw reach across your screen and hear an adorable bark sound. When you search “pi,” a calculator appears that’s actually a playable memory game. Or type “Wordle” in the search bar and watch the Google logo change to mimic the popular word game.

Emma Freeman is a Software Engineer on the team that comes up with and codes these entertaining and unexpected features, which are aptly named “delight” features. “If you search for something on Google and you see something you weren’t expecting, like a little animation or a surprise, that’s what my team does,” she says. Like the Google Doodle, many of these hidden features are ephemeral and tied to a topical pop culture moment or holiday.

As an engineer, Emma gets to help ideate and execute the timely features. For example, for Taylor Swift’s re-release of her album 1989 (Taylor’s Version), the team built a scavenger hunt word scramble puzzle that revealed the titles of the vault tracks on the album. After it launched, Emma scrolled social media for reactions, and saw tweets from Swifties who said they stayed up all night working on the puzzle. “People are so passionate about Taylor Swift, and it’s lovely to be able to reach people on that level,” Emma says.

The team built 89 hidden word puzzles in Google Search to celebrate Taylor Swift’s album 1989 (Taylor’s Version).

Another rewarding and memorable project: When the Scooby-Doo character Velma was first portrayed as a lesbian in the cartoon series, Emma’s team added celebratory lesbian Pride confetti on Google Search queries for the character. “The response that we got made me feel like I was doing something very meaningful for people,” Emma says. “It’s such a small and kind of particular role, but you have a lot of impact weighing in on all these cultural conversations from a really public setting.” Here’s how Emma launched this cool career in tech, what it’s like to work at Google, and her advice for landing a similar role.

What got me interested in the job

“I went to Wesleyan University for undergrad, and that was the first time I ever wrote code. I studied computer science and I double-majored in art. I was really focusing on digital art and how to code creatively to make animations, art, and games with code.

A lot of what we learned [in college] was theory and logic, like how code works and how computers work, but it wasn’t a lot of technical hard skills. The computer science major at Wesleyan is explicitly not trying to teach you to go into the industry, it definitely prepares you more for an academic side of things. I actually ended up coding a lot more in my art classes.

I only had one relevant summer job with Girls Who Code’s summer immersion program, which I completely loved. I had a lot of work experience in retail and service, but I’ve never had any software engineering jobs or internships. I kind of tried to find any area where I could write code for a job and took on as many side projects as I could. I worked in my school’s digital lab, which was working a lot with 3D printers and art related technology, but not explicitly coding. I worked for my school’s library doing some web archival work.”

How I got in the door

“I’ve never met anyone who had less experience than I did coming into this career. I applied online for a new grad position called the Engineering Residency program, which is now deprecated. It was a one-year fellowship for people with less of a technical background. So that was the route that allowed me to get into Google. Without that, it would have been much harder for me to find a path there.

I knew that I didn’t have a lot of technical background, so I found myself very, very stressed out with trying to become this perfect technical student in a very short amount of time. I was like, I don’t have any experience, but I need the experience. I almost felt like I’d run out of time without having internships.

Don’t be afraid to be a non-traditional candidate. Oftentimes it can really be a strength.

Emma Freeman
Software Engineer at Google

Technical interviews are notoriously intimidating, and I had all that standard advice of reading Cracking the Coding Interview, and all that. I found Cracking the Coding Interview to be one of the most depressing books I’ve ever read. I did a bunch of LeetCode questions to try and span a breadth of topics. I knew I was not going to have perfect technical answers to every question, but I know what I am good at, which is answering questions in job interview settings, communication, and asking the right questions.

I kept coming back to the question: If I’m in an interview setting where I don’t know an answer, what can I do? Things like asking the interviewer questions, or saying things like, ‘I think this question can be solved in n^2 time, but I’m not sure if it can actually be solved in linear time,’ to try and make the interview more of a conversation. Because of those skills, I was able to get to a point where I could get a decent answer on paper. Bad interviews happen and you’ve just got to be okay with it. That mindset made the process a lot more bearable.”

What I actually do all day

“There are days where I have a stand-up meeting and then am coding all day. I work a lot in TypeScript and a fair amount in Java and just your standard HTML/CSS. Occasionally, I’ll use some C++. I typically fall more on the front-end side of things, but I end up doing some back-end things as well.

Often, I’m touching base with someone about an ongoing project, whether that’s just like a doc review or a quick meeting. We do a lot of brainstorming and feature planning meetings where we give input into the design and the UX. That’s not typically something that I would expect to be involved in as an engineer. Getting to have exposure into that makes my work feel a lot more personal, and not like I’m just implementing something that was handed off to me.

The lesbian and LGBTQ+ Pride flags rained down like confetti on Google Searches for the cartoon character Velma Dinkley.

I also spend a good amount of time trying to scour the internet for what people care about that week. If there’s a good opportunity for an Easter egg, then I’m trying to come up with something that we can launch quickly and well.

A lot of the times we’re building features for holidays or movies, so there’s a lot of personal emotion and meaning that goes into the work that is very key to the success. All of my coworkers are very attuned to that. I find myself so thrown into my features that I’m thinking about them all the time — but that’s because I think it’s interesting.”

Here’s what you need to get started

Emma’s biggest piece of advice for folks who are searching for jobs in tech is to embrace whatever your individual strengths are instead of trying to shoehorn yourself into your idea of a model developer. “Don’t be afraid to be a non-traditional candidate,” Emma says. “Oftentimes it can really be a strength.”

It’s also great if your individual strengths are unrelated to technical skills: “My particular soft skills have undeniably made me an asset on my team,” Emma says. (Want to work on your soft skills? Here are ways to practice and improve soft skills like problem solving and planning.)

Lastly, don’t limit yourself to only going after jobs in the tech industry, because there are lots of other sectors that need to hire people with technical skills. “Keep an open mind,” Emma says. “You can always have side projects that are more aligned with your interests until you find something that you want to do full time.”

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