At the start of December, Google launched an adorable way to let millions of kids around the world get hyped for the holidays.
Santa Tracker started as the “20% project” of a couple of Google Earth employees back in 2004 and has just snowballed from there, getting a little bigger, better, and more well-staffed every year.
“It feels like such a ‘Google’ thing,” project lead Andres Ferrate, the project lead, told Business Insider. “This is primarily a volunteer effort within the company, but every year more people want to come help us and improve the experience.”
Ferrate says that dozens of people of all different departments helped out in creating the experience this year, with contributions coming from Google offices in Tokyo, Australian, Europe, Seattle, New York, and Silicon Valley. They have other work to do, but make time to contribute to Santa’s Village just because they love working on it.
The company doesn’t make any money off its efforts, but because the entire village world is made using the same tools Google provides to its third-party developers, it does get a chance to showcase some of its products and how they can work together. It also lets Google see which tools could use improvement, Ferrate says, noting that”pushing the envelope” with some of them has led to a lot of feedback to Google’s product teams. The team wanted to make it as magical an experience for kids as possible, while still tying in an educational aspect.
At its core, the Santa’s Village project is a good demonstration of how Google works. CEO Larry Page recently told Fortune that to make sure that Google continues to be successful, he asks himself “Would I want to work for Google?” He wants the company to be a good environment for employees who are curious, entrepreneurial, and looking to have an impact on the world. Sure, letting kids experience the excitement of Santa’s voyage in a new way isn’t as ground-breaking as, say, Google’s goal of using magnetic nanoparticles to search your blood for disease, but it gives employees the chance to have fun.
Hiring “smart creative” employees who have big ambitions is baked into Google’s fabric. Admittedly, sometimes that can mean having to reel people’s excitement in a little.
“We get a lot of unexpected surprises. People will just come out of the wood-works and things that we hadn’t even scoped in will get added,” Ferrate says. “We actually have to make sure we’re disciplined because otherwise this thing could grow a bit too big and complex.”