Students to solve Lego puzzles at Google Games

Seventy-five University of Waterloo students will flex their mental brawn this weekend at the Google Games 2008, where Lego building and puzzle solving put team dynamics to the test.

The Games are an academic event organized by Mountain View, Calif.-based Google Inc. meant to introduce the company’s culture of team problem-solving to engineering and computer science students who will eventually form the IT industry of the future, said Rebecca Selvenis, university programs specialist with Google.

“Really it’s about collaboration, which is a Google value,” said Selvenis, who is based in New York.

The Games will feature a Lego building task to bring out a team’s creativity (last year’s event challenged teams to build Lego bridges to see which could sustain the most weight). There’s a puzzle-solving task on paper designed by Google engineers. And, awards will be given out for Geek Trivia winners and team spirit.

The Games are an inner-school event taking place on the Waterloo campus where the 75 students will work as teams and go head-to-head on various challenges.

The choice of the University of Waterloo for the Games reflects the strong relationship that has existed between it and Google. “Waterloo is a very important school for us on many levels,” said Selvenis. Google has hired many students from the University on a co-op and full-time employment basis, and has a Google research and development location in the City of Waterloo not far from the campus.

“Google Games is one aspect of those students and Google getting to know each other and finding out more how good a fit it would be,” said Vic DiCiccio, the University of Waterloo’s director of the Institute of Computer Research. “And, it’s about just celebrating the excitement of solving pretty difficult computation problems.”

But the Games form but one component of a multifaceted relationship the university has with the company. Besides co-op and employment opportunities, Google supports the university’s research that aligns with its own interests around automating the process of creating knowledge from large amounts of available data. Google and the University of Waterloo share a fair degree of interest in that area, said DiCiccio.

The Games this year was promoted through academic departments including computer science, computer engineering, electrical engineering and mathematics, as well as through student organizations. The participants were selected on a first-come first-served basis.

The Games are a relatively new event, spawned as a pilot in 2007 and based on an idea from students at the University of Illinois. Other universities have since engaged in Google Games, either as an inner-school or school-versus-school event.

In fact, from an organization perspective, Google Games 2008 has benefited from student input. The winning team from the University of Illinois designed and contributed a puzzle (tweaked slightly by Google) that this year’s teams will have to tackle.

While the Games may appear completely recreational, Selvenis said the challenges are ultimately relevant to the business because “as far as company culture, it does relate to life at Google and in the way we operate and get things done.”

But although Google has a strong recruiting relationship with the university, an event like this is not designed solely to pitch the company on campus, Selvenis insisted. It’s meant to be an enjoyable day. “It’s definitely something that students have a lot of fun at, and there are not a lot of situations that relate to their career search that are just pure fun,” she said.

Students should feel comfortable knowing they won’t be evaluated for possible employment during the event, said Selvenis, however, participants will be invited to apply to work with Google following the Games.

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