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Google's Thomas Williams finds creativity in computers

Williams, the site director for Google's new L.A. campus near Venice Beach, has used technology to create art and graphics during much of his career.

December 11, 2011|By David Sarno, Los Angeles Times

Use your hands: In his personal life, Williams says he regularly gets obsessive about mastering new crafts, whether it's creating homemade circuit boards with acid-etching techniques, making sourdough bread using yeast he grew himself, or woodworking. He built a 12-foot sailboat in his garage and helped a group of artisan carpenters build a house in Montecito using only Renaissance-era materials and hand tools. But to Williams, craft is the same, whether it's creating software or building boats. "It's personal expression. People don't think of writing a program the same way as they do writing a book or poem, but it's a creative process. There are rules, and when it's flawed you have to go back and change it."

Build your own treadmill: Williams has a craftsman-like metaphor for how to help people excel, one that he has applied at Pixar, ILM and now Google. Instead of allowing employees to get mired in jobs that become endlessly repetitive — like hamster wheels — you get them to "build their own treadmills." That means giving people the latitude to figure out problems in new ways and to work at their own pace. "If you work with great people, everyone is setting their treadmill too high. No one's telling you you're not going fast enough — everyone is telling themselves that."

david.sarno@latimes.com

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