The Internship, a new film that opens this weekend, features Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson as two 40-somethings who get laid off, and then land internships at Google. At a screening of the movie recently in a theater full of Google interns, there wasn't a gray hair among them.
There were lots of heads, though, wearing beanies with bright Google colors and a blue propeller on top. The propeller hat is a geek cliché, and looked like something Hollywood would add to reinforce the nerdy stereotype. But Raymond Braun, who works in the marketing department at Google and was once an intern, says that’s the one part of the movie that rang true.
“One thing that is completely accurate is that hat. It’s exactly the same one I wore,” Braun says. All new Google employees, including interns, are called "Nooglers," and wear that propeller hat when joining the company.
Doug Edwards, the author of “I’m Feeling Lucky: The Confessions of Google Employee Number 59,” says in the early 2000's he was in charge of TGIF: the weekly meeting that Google holds for all employees. Back then, Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin would personally introduce each new employee.
“And it was important to Sergey that after the TGIF introduction, new people could be easily identified and current Googlers could make them feel welcome,” Edwards says.
At the time, Edwards was one of the few non-engineers at Google, and suggested a propeller hat. “To me, it was hilariously funny to see all these Ph. Ds walking around in beanie propellers,” he says.
What was orginally meant to be a tongue-in-cheek joke now takes a bigger meaning. Marcin Wichary, an ex-Googler, was a designer at the tech company. He remembers the first time he saw his “Noogler” hat on display in the permanent collection of the Computer History Museum in Silicon Valley.
“Holy Crap, that’s my hat, and now it’s in this container as an artifact,” he says. Wichary says his hat reminded him that it’s okay to be a geek.
“They’ve fully re-appropriated the symbolism of the hat,” says Marc Weber, a curator at the Computer History Museum. “Instead of marking somebody as separate or not cool, it's marking them as being a member of this exclusive group,” he says.
Weber says it’s a lot like the kind of rituals you’ll find at elite Universities, where they have traditions and symbols that make students feel special. If you want one of those “Noogler" you can’t just buy it, you've got to earn it.