Behind Every Play Button: The People and Culture of YouTube

Abigail Grubbs/ May 30, 2024/ 2024

On Wednesday, May 22, we had the opportunity to visit the powerhouse behind digital media, YouTube!

The YouTube Logo Outside the YouTube Headquarters

Pulling up to the location, I had no idea what to expect. I, as many others, use YouTube everyday, but I had never taken the time to actually search up the headquarters and see where the magic happens. Outside, the building looked like just another corporate office, which initially had me worried that the YouTube headquarters wouldn’t be as cool as I imagined it to be.

Thankfully, that was quickly proven wrong as we made our way in and were greeted by a colorful,flashy wall, with the YouTube logo right in the center of it, as well as some interestingly designed chairs (which were quite fun to roll around in!).

YouTube Logo Against a Colorful Backdrop

We were then greeted by our host, Rachel, who after checking us in, first showed us around the building we were in. As we explored, she talked a bit about herself, her work and time so far at YouTube, as well as answering some initial brief questions. One thing I thought was really cool was the existence of a big slide connecting the second floor to the first that employees could use (which we were able to try!).

The Red Slide Located Inside the Offices

Afterwards, we were taken outside to the courtyard where we had a more in-depth Q and A featuring questions such as “What does a typical day at work look like for you?”, “How does YouTube combat/moderate dangerous trends”, and “How has the culture at YouTube changed or stayed consistent from where it was six years ago?” (from when Rachel first joined YouTube).

One question that I found very interesting asked what the time frame was from coming up with  a concept, to having it fully on the YouTube platform. In class, we’ve discussed extensively about
identifying problems, “jobs” in which we use a product that was not intended for it, or even “jobs” that don’t yet have a sufficient product to fulfill it, and coming up with new concepts and solutions to those problems and “jobs”. While as of this writing we have yet to talk extensively about the timeline of coming up with a product and bringing it to life (which I know we will get to in the near future), it was interesting to hear Rachel’s perspective about how long it takes things to go from concept to reality at YouTube, which she said takes anywhere from four to twelvemonths, which makes sense given the extensive thought, coding, testing, and more that goes into everything there.

Finally, after exploring more of the headquarters, we had the opportunity to attend a panel of Duke affiliated YouTube employees which included a wide range of roles such as software engineer and global program manager. It was very interesting to hear about various topics such as each employee’s personal story, how they got to YouTube, what their role consists of, and the various teams that make up YouTube (which is to say a lot). I enjoyed hearing their descriptions of the culture at YouTube, and how even though today it’s a pretty big company, it still “feels like working at a startup” due to the fast paced nature of their work and the close bonds within the teams.

Duke in Silicon Valley Students at YouTube

Overall, I very much enjoyed visiting YouTube. We were able to hear and discuss a wide range of topics from a wide ranging group of individuals. In addition, it felt like a very full circle moment for me. I’ve been watching YouTube videos for as long as I can remember, and I still watch videos on the daily, as just about anyone else, so being able to visit the headquarters and go behind the scenes of everything that powers the platform I’ve used daily for years is nothing short of amazing. I know we’ll be able to apply everything we’ve learned from this site visit to our work these last two weeks of the Duke in Silicon Valley program and beyond.

Jonathan Torres-Tomas is a rising junior from Hendersonville, North Carolina. He is on track to complete a double major in Computer Science and Economics. On campus, Jonathan is involved in a number of clubs and organizations including the Duke University Marching Band (as a trombonist), the Duke LIFE organization, Mi Gente, and Duke Applied Machine Learning. In his free time, he loves to play various video games, read light novels, and have a great time with friends. Jonathan is excited to immerse himself in the start-up culture through the Duke in Silicon Valley program. He is eager to learn about starting and running a successful enterprise as well as meeting wonderful people along the journey.

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