Google’s toilets are famous.
Not only are the toilets extremely high tech, but, since at least 2006, they have been used to ensure Google’s products are bug free and awesome. It’s a culture hack known internally as “Testing on the Toilet.”
According to Google software engineers, past and present, Google excels at software testing, which means making sure features work like they are supposed to.
One way Google got so good was because of a gang of passionate test engineers who called themselves the Google Testing Grouplet. The Grouplet found a novel way to teach good software testing skills to the whole company.
They wrote programming quizzes and puzzles that trained people how to spot problems in software. They printed the quizzes out and posted them all over the Googleplex’s restrooms, some 500 stalls. The program is still going on today, and still known as “Testing on the Toilet.”
In 2007, they launched a blog where they posted and encouraged programmers worldwide to do the same. The blog explained:
We’re unveiling the public release of “Testing on the Toilet”: one of Google’s little secrets that has helped us to inspire our developers to write well-tested code.
We write flyers about everything from dependency injection to code coverage, and then regularly plaster the bathrooms all over Google with each episode, almost 500 stalls worldwide. We’ve received a lot of feedback about it. Some favourable (“This is great because I’m always forgetting to bring my copy of Linux Nerd 2000 to the bathroom!”) and some not (“I’m trying to use the bathroom, can you folks please just LEAVE ME ALONE?”).
Some Google employees liked this so much they took it with them (or something like it) to their new jobs when they moved on.
When asked on Quora what parts of Google’s engineering culture people use, Edmond Lau gave a thoughtful response. Lau worked at Google from 2006-2008, was an early employee at Quora, and is now at Quip. He’s also the author of the upcoming book The Effective Engineer’s Handbook.
Every week, a group of Googlers would plaster the walls of bathroom stalls worldwide with one-page sheets that shared the week’s testing tip. One week, the one-pager might discuss dependency injection and provide a simple example of how to use it in various languages; another week, it might share how to set up a tool for measuring test coverage of your team’s codebase. The “Testing on the Toilet” initiative was a quirky and fun way to teach engineers something new and useful as they were doing their business. It also highlighted one of the key strengths of Google’s engineering culture: efficiently disseminating a consistent and opinionated set of best practices to a large engineering organisation.
And maybe there’s another moral to the story: If you want to capture people’s attention, catch ’em with their pants down.