Programming and coding aren’t new for Mike Hearn. He started when he was six years old, thanks to his father who was in the television industry in the UK and was interested in computers. He even ran a software business in the early 1980s, but it wasn’t big and Mike’s father decided to stick to the TV industry.
“But, our home always had computers. My father and I would always play on the computer. I was very young and wouldn’t understand much, but there was complete fascination with the buttons and screens. There seemed to be an infinite amount of buttons to push and click, and magic would happen on the screen,” Mike recollects.
Keen on studying and learning new things, Mike wasn’t really academically inclined. “Most of my efforts at school were because people would say I couldn’t study computer science if my grades weren’t good enough,” he says.
In 2004, Mike joined Durham College, UK, but soon realised that the theoretical aspects of computers didn’t interest him much. The computer science department was filled with academics who didn’t seem to understand programming very well. This didn’t augur well for Mike, who was used to playing and working on computer systems.
“We had teachers who understood the theory of code, but it would crash when you put that to practical use. All of this put me off academia. But I didn’t quit college as my parents were contributing for my education,” he says.
Mike Hearn as a child
The Google break
At college, Mike continued coding and working on various small projects.
“I would use up the dial-up connection to do open source codes and work since I turned 14 years old and we got internet at home. My name was already there in several projects. I was about 17 when I posted an obscure technical question to some red hat mailing list…this was later picked by Google,” he says.
Mike was still in college, in 2006, when a Google headhunter reached out. He joined Google, seeing this as “an opportunity to get out of academics”. This was early in Google’s lifecycle, and he went through a three-month training programme and began working on server operations.
“Since most of Google’s technology is proprietary, the training was intense and one of the best. We all got on a plane, went to the US, and spent three months in California. An unforgettable experience when you are a 22-year-old.”
Mike describes Google as an “engineer’s playground” and soon began working on Google Maps and Google Earth projects. He was part of the on-call operations team for Maps and Earth for three years, and focused on specialising in satellite imagery and tile serving infrastructure. He worked on traffic management, optimisation, cluster build-outs, production readiness reviews, monitoring of the network infrastructure, and troubleshooting.
“I was part of the team that worked on the rollout of Maps’ and on the rendered vector maps,” he…