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Vibrant tech scene vital for Google in Pittsburgh

| Monday, June 13, 2016, 11:00 p.m.
Kamal Nigam, head Google’s Pittsburgh office, Friday, April 15, 2016.
James Knox | Tribune-Review
Kamal Nigam, head Google’s Pittsburgh office, Friday, April 15, 2016.
Kamal Nigam, head of Google’s Pittsburgh office, Friday, April 15, 2016.
James Knox | Tribune-Review
Kamal Nigam, head of Google’s Pittsburgh office, Friday, April 15, 2016.

Kamal Nigam, head of Google's Pittsburgh office, is excited by the addition of more technology companies in the city because they create a more vibrant scene for his own expanding workforce of 450 employees.

The growth of Google, which has more than doubled the number of people employed at the Bakery Square development in Larimer since 2012, has led the company to plan a move into a second office building across Penn Avenue. The move is expected later this year.

The company, which operates its growing shopping search business from Pittsburgh and also has operations for online advertising and cloud services here, is hiring more than software engineers, Nigam said. The company also needs product designers, client relationship managers and others, he told the Tribune-Review during a recent interview.

Edited excerpts of the interview are below.

Trib: With more technology companies moving into Pittsburgh, how have Google's operations been affected?

Nigam: We're very excited that over the last decade Pittsburgh's tech scene has gotten stronger and stronger and has attracted a broader variety of companies of all sizes. Having a strong tech ecosystem here in Pittsburgh is excellent for the city and it's great for Google. It makes it much easier for us to talk to folks from outside the city about relocating here. A significant majority of people that we hire come to Google from outside Pittsburgh and it's much easier to talk to them about building a career and a life in a place where they see a vibrant tech scene.

Trib: How do you sell people on moving to Pittsburgh?

Nigam: Pittsburgh is a great small city and it totally sells itself. There's a certain type of person who has to live in New York or has to live in Los Angeles. And if you're one of those types of people then you should probably go live in New York or L.A. But for the vast majority of us, Pittsburgh is a great place to live, and people come here and they see the great riverfront development over the last 10 years. They see the amazing restaurant scene. They see different neighborhoods that really appeal to them. People of all backgrounds can have an excellent time here.

Trib: Are there any plans for bringing Google's self-driving car operations here?

Nigam: Carnegie Mellon (University) has a real strength in autonomous vehicle research and development. But right now, we have our main efforts in that located in California.

Trib: What's driving growth in Google's shopping program?

Nigam: One of the most important online activities people do is they look for things to buy. Users come to Google with that information need and we have the responsibility for helping them find great products to buy from trusted stores. We have merchants who are advertising with us so we build out a delightful user experience that connects users with merchants. In this specific office we focus on two things, building out the user experience on the shopping property. And second, we build out the meta data, which is the deep understanding of what are all the products in the world, how are they reviewed, what are their technical specifications. That really informs the guts of the user experience.

Trib: Does that involve cataloging everything that's for sale online?

Nigam: Yes, exactly. We have teams here that use machine learning algorithms, building very scalable systems to manage all that information. We do a lot of cutting-edge technologies here that we bring together to make shopping successful.

Trib: What are the challenges of adapting the technology for mobile?

Nigam: There's been a huge shift in users from desktop to mobile over the last few years and if you look at our front-end user experience teams, they're now spending a large amount of their time developing for the mobile platform.

Trib: Is it different developing for mobile?

Nigam: It is. The technical considerations are different and the user experience considerations are different. Building an experience off of a very small screen is actually much harder than building it in a place where you have more screen real estate. For example, the Internet tends to be slower on your phone so you have to work harder to make it a very fast, responsive experience because we know that's critical to users.

Alex Nixon is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7928 or anixon@tribweb.com.

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