How Google’s Hardware team built the Home, and where they’re headed next

When Paul Gojenola joined Google in late 2015, the clock was ticking. It was less than a year out from the release of the first Google Home—and the team to build it barely existed.

“We pulled all the teams together and created an instant hardware division,” remembers Paul, now Google’s head of hardware development for VR, AR, and wearables. “The infrastructure was there, but the project itself was unlike anything the company had ever done.”

Just three years later, the Home, Home Mini, and Home Max are in millions of homes all over the world. It wasn’t always easy, Paul says, but “I’m so proud of this team. They’ve raised the bar every year. The biggest challenge now is looking at the list of 70 things we could do and deciding which 10 to tackle next.”

Humble beginnings

The Home team started out small, but with what Paul calls a “critical mass” of creative and technical talent, including industrial design lead Katie Morgenroth who joined right after the Hardware division formed.

It was clear they were taking hardware really seriously.

“We had three months to develop a design language,” she remembers. “It was exciting, but it was also a lot of pressure. The home is a sacred space, and we wanted to be very thoughtful about who the product was for and how it would be used.”

The opportunity to innovate, and to make a significant impact on an early-stage team, also drew audio engineer Frances Kwee to help create the Home. A simple product demo sealed the deal.

“It completely blew me away,” she remembers. “It was clear they were taking hardware really seriously.”

Race against the clock

With the team in place and the launch date fast approaching, the team got right to work—and thanks to their fellow Googlers, were able to develop prototypes and get fast feedback.

“Whenever we’re developing a new Home product, we send thousands of units to employees across the company so they can report bugs and help us make the product better,” explains Frances. “Only at Google could we gather that data so quickly.”

Another resource unique to Google: the labs. “They’re some of the best you’ll find,” she adds. “Great simulation software, great spaces. That’s so important to us in audio, because everything in the Home is part of the speaker system. We’re constantly 3D printing and iterating on pretty much every component.”

In the midst of such rapid, extensive iteration, Katie says, roadblocks are inevitable. She recalls two frustrating weeks during which new speech performance requirements nearly broke a design the team loved. The team was stuck—until one engineer suggested they try flipping the speaker over.

“It was so simple! When he presented his idea, we knew the numbers so well that we could tell immediately it would work. Everyone in the room just started clapping and tearing up.”

Moments like that, Paul says, make all the challenges worthwhile. “The symbiotic relationship between teams takes work, but it pays off. We’re building products that are fully integrated—top to bottom, hardware and software—and that makes our impact radius immediately bigger. We’re not just improving the hardware, we’re improving the entire Google ecosystem.”

Looking forward

That ecosystem includes not only products, but also people. Nearly two years after the first Homes shipped, Katie says the team is still growing quickly. “The Hardware team feels like a startup in some ways, but the great thing about that is everyone has a voice. Our work is about our relationships as much as it’s about the products, and we’re all the more proud of what we’ve built because we did it together.”

The Hardware team feels like a startup in some ways, but the great thing about that is everyone has a voice. Our work is about our relationships as much as it’s about the products...

As for what the team tackles next, she says, “there are some things on the roadmap that really excite me”—especially in terms of accessibility. “I gave the Home to my grandparents so they can call someone no matter where they are in the house. There’s a lot of potential to help people be safer and more independent.”

“Building for everyone” is a point of pride for Frances, as well. “I love that Google values differences, among our customers and among our employees. Diversity makes our products better, and it makes our organization better, too.”

For Paul, the road ahead is full of opportunities. “The future of computing is ambient—we’re going to be talking, not typing—and the Hardware team is figuring out the path to get there. We’re creating something completely new, and this is just the beginning.”

Paul Gojenola

Hardware Director

How Google’s Hardware team built the Home, and where they’re headed next

When Paul Gojenola joined Google in late 2015, the clock was ticking. It was less than a year out from the release of the first Google Home—and the team to build it barely existed.

“We pulled all the teams together and created an instant hardware division,” remembers Paul, now Google’s head of hardware development for VR, AR, and wearables. “The infrastructure was there, but the project itself was unlike anything the company had ever done.”

Just three years later, the Home, Home Mini, and Home Max are in millions of homes all over the world. It wasn’t always easy, Paul says, but “I’m so proud of this team. They’ve raised the bar every year. The biggest challenge now is looking at the list of 70 things we could do and deciding which 10 to tackle next.”

Humble beginnings

The Home team started out small, but with what Paul calls a “critical mass” of creative and technical talent, including industrial design lead Katie Morgenroth who joined right after the Hardware division formed.

It was clear they were taking hardware really seriously.

“We had three months to develop a design language,” she remembers. “It was exciting, but it was also a lot of pressure. The home is a sacred space, and we wanted to be very thoughtful about who the product was for and how it would be used.”

The opportunity to innovate, and to make a significant impact on an early-stage team, also drew audio engineer Frances Kwee to help create the Home. A simple product demo sealed the deal.

“It completely blew me away,” she remembers. “It was clear they were taking hardware really seriously.”

Race against the clock

With the team in place and the launch date fast approaching, the team got right to work—and thanks to their fellow Googlers, were able to develop prototypes and get fast feedback.

“Whenever we’re developing a new Home product, we send thousands of units to employees across the company so they can report bugs and help us make the product better,” explains Frances. “Only at Google could we gather that data so quickly.”

Another resource unique to Google: the labs. “They’re some of the best you’ll find,” she adds. “Great simulation software, great spaces. That’s so important to us in audio, because everything in the Home is part of the speaker system. We’re constantly 3D printing and iterating on pretty much every component.”

In the midst of such rapid, extensive iteration, Katie says, roadblocks are inevitable. She recalls two frustrating weeks during which new speech performance requirements nearly broke a design the team loved. The team was stuck—until one engineer suggested they try flipping the speaker over.

“It was so simple! When he presented his idea, we knew the numbers so well that we could tell immediately it would work. Everyone in the room just started clapping and tearing up.”

Moments like that, Paul says, make all the challenges worthwhile. “The symbiotic relationship between teams takes work, but it pays off. We’re building products that are fully integrated—top to bottom, hardware and software—and that makes our impact radius immediately bigger. We’re not just improving the hardware, we’re improving the entire Google ecosystem.”

Looking forward

That ecosystem includes not only products, but also people. Nearly two years after the first Homes shipped, Katie says the team is still growing quickly. “The Hardware team feels like a startup in some ways, but the great thing about that is everyone has a voice. Our work is about our relationships as much as it’s about the products, and we’re all the more proud of what we’ve built because we did it together.”

The Hardware team feels like a startup in some ways, but the great thing about that is everyone has a voice. Our work is about our relationships as much as it’s about the products...

As for what the team tackles next, she says, “there are some things on the roadmap that really excite me”—especially in terms of accessibility. “I gave the Home to my grandparents so they can call someone no matter where they are in the house. There’s a lot of potential to help people be safer and more independent.”

“Building for everyone” is a point of pride for Frances, as well. “I love that Google values differences, among our customers and among our employees. Diversity makes our products better, and it makes our organization better, too.”

For Paul, the road ahead is full of opportunities. “The future of computing is ambient—we’re going to be talking, not typing—and the Hardware team is figuring out the path to get there. We’re creating something completely new, and this is just the beginning.”