Augustana Grad Works Behind the Screens at Google

Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson competed in the fictionalized Google internship program in the summer movie “The Internship.” Well, they got the uniform right, and Laura (Pfeifer) Vardoulakis ’02 should know. She donned the new employee beanie earlier this year when she joined the user experience research team at Google’s Silicon Valley headquarters.

Vardoulakis majored in computer science at Augie and completed her Ph.D. in computer science, with an emphasis in human-computer interaction, from Northeastern University in Boston in March. She is a user experience researcher at Google and lives in California.

Q: Have you seen “The Internship” with Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson? Or heard the term “nooglers”?

A: Of course! While the depiction of Google's internship program was not super accurate, they did get a lot of things right (nap pods really exist! and the food is all free!). The term "nooglers" is also a real thing.

Q: Google seems like the ultimate place for computer science graduates. How did you feel on your first day on the job?

A: My first day as a noogler, I was completely in awe. Of course, I knew that Google's technology was amazing, but now I got to see some of the behind-the-scenes magic, and I was totally blown away. It's safe to say that I'm blown away by something at my job every single day. I feel super lucky to work at a place with the scale and impact that Google has on people's lives.

Q: What is a user experience researcher?

A: Everyone at Google thinks about the user first and foremost — it's one of our core values. In my job, I'm 100 percent focused on the user. I work with designers and engineers to build products that people love. My job as a researcher is to conduct lab experiments, field studies, surveys, interviews (and more!) to truly understand our users and to help Google build great products.

Q: What was your own experience with the Internet in college?

A: As a freshman at Augie, we still used a terminal-based email system called Pine. Netscape was the best browser of the day, and Napster was in full force. Ah, memories.

Q: How did Augustana prepare you for this job?

A: While at Augie, I was mentored by (the late) Dr. Dan Swets. He introduced me to the world of academic research and I was able to work with him for several semesters on a research project in collaboration with EROS data center. He always inspired me and was a huge reason why I decided to get my Ph.D. I will be forever grateful that he nudged me into research. The tight-knit Computer Science community at Augie was fantastic. Dr. Swets, Dr. Marcia Entwistle, and Dr. Stephen Shum were some of the best teachers I had.