Part 45: Inventions, odd jobs and campus happy places of future Googlers

Part 45: Inventions, odd jobs and campus happy places of future Googlers

They have catchy official job titles, like Security Princess (PARISA TABRIZ), Global Head of Human Truths (LAURA KRAJECKI) and Executive Summits Evangelist (CLIFF REDEKER), and make a living in different-looking workplaces than most of us, ones with nap pods (Mountain View, Calif.), rooftop mini golf (Toronto) and in-house chefs available to prepare three free meals a day for employees (Sydney).

Yes, it's good to work at Google, which employs so many UI grads — 500-plus at last count — that it's hard to keep track of them all.

"One of the people on my immediate team graduated from the U of I the same year as me. We managed to never meet in all four years on campus," says Google Content Manager MARK SHERBIN, from the Class of 2006.

Today, in Part 45 of Editor JEFF D'ALESSIO's yearlong series catching up with UI grads in the year of their alma mater's 150th birthday, here's a brief look at what life was like for future Googlers before they hit the big time.

1. They invented stuff.

Take software engineer DEV MANUEL ('15), who kept busy during his UI days devising "little side-projects," as he put it. The most successful: a food-delivery venture he and a friend cooked up.

"The business was named Snacktime Delivery, and we would deliver home-made Mexican burritos directly to your doorstep," he says. "We didn't know much about burritos, so my friend struck a deal with a local Mexican restaurant while I and another friend created an app.

"The funniest part was that another friend helped us hack the popular messaging app Yik Yak so that our post — titled 'Burritos from Snacktime Delivery are SOOOO good!' — was on top for 10 consecutive weeks. Imagine 10,000 college students opening Yik Yak every day and seeing our cheesy post on the top; it drove them insane."

2. They did odd jobs.

Sherbin landed a part-time gig at the UI archives, "fetching documents from the musty back room where the collections were stored in seemingly endless rows of numbered gray and tan cardboard boxes."

Some days, he went a mile a minute, "enthralled while scanning some freakish picture collection from the 19th century or hustling around the stacks to sweat out last night's booze." Others were spent "knee-deep in some long-dead scientist's personal correspondence."

"I never won employee of the month, but I experienced a unique part of campus that inspired my healthy interest in history," he said.

3. They found their happy places.

For software developer GRETCHEN HALL ('99, left), it was "the Cave" at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications — a four-walled "cube surrounded by millions of dollars of audio, visual and computing equipment" with the ability to transport visitors into "an alternate reality, with 3-D visuals and octaphonic sound that responded to your every movement."

For talent intelligence associate JENNA FOSTER ('12, right), it was "Campustown's Greek glory" — Zorba's — where she and future husband JOSH became regulars on Groovy Tuesdays and Wiener Wednesdays, "often walking to Greek class together smelling like gyros and fries."

Sadly, Zorba's burned down her junior year — on her birthday, no less — "but we were thrilled to make a return trip a couple years later and relive a bit of our glory days."

For program manager FIONA SODERBERG ('09, left), it was the Quad, where she "spent countless hours tempting the squirrels to get closer, watching the energetic slack-liners, studying between classes or spending a summer evening hanging out with friends before we all dispersed to our various hometowns for break."