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From the NFL to Google’s Data Centers: Why KP Philpot still values teamwork over everything

Editor’s note: KP Philpot is the Environmental Health & Safety Manager at Alphabet’s data center campus in Douglas County, Georgia. It’s a long way from both a childhood in Chicago’s South Side, and standing in football stadiums with thousands of fans, but one thing has always held true for him: The importance of personal and team performance. 

How did you come to Google?

At surface level, it was pretty direct. I was working as a site safety engineer for a contractor that was building a Google data center, and I was offered a job at Google. 

On a deeper level, it was a long and unexpected journey. I grew up in inner city Chicago, and we didn’t hear a lot about data center technicians and environmental engineering. We had blue collar jobs you stuck to, or you played sports. I played football and basketball, and was recruited by colleges for both. I set three NCAA records playing linebacker at Eastern Michigan University, and then I was with the Detroit Lions and played some Arena Football. A few years after that someone I played with in college brought me into the construction industry, and that’s what I did at three other companies before arriving at Google. 

How different is Google from other places?

One thing that’s a breath of fresh air is that when you come to Google, it’s okay to not have all the answers. I think you work more freely and more confidently when there’s no expectation to know everything from day one. If someone you ask doesn’t know the answer, they’re interested in finding it out. There’s a healthy curiosity that you don’t find in most places. 

One other difference is that Google tends to be team oriented. That part comes naturally to me,  even if it is tech.  I’ve played on teams since I was a kid, and both my parents were athletes. On a team, everyone has a part to play. You have different people, with different skill sets, but everyone belongs. Their contributions are different, but the goal is the same.

What is a typical day like?

Many people see data centers as rooms full of servers and switches, but I assure you no two days are alike. There are many things to think about in terms of safety, since a data center has a lot of moving parts, especially when working with electricity, we have rigorous protocols to ensure safety for everyone on the site. We also take our environmental impact seriously. A big part of our environmental work is the innovative cooling system we have here in Douglas County — we recycle local sewer water that would otherwise be put in the Chattahoochee River. As for leftover water that does not evaporate, we treat it before returning it to the river. 

More than that, though, it’s the diversity of people you find in a data center. There may be construction people, who tend to have a lot of hands-on experience and are task focused; there are engineers and managers, who are more focused on how to optimize a process;and of course, there are Googlers. We all become interesting to each other. I get to coordinate and work alongside all of them, which I enjoy a lot.

So is team building part of the job?

Teamwork is the lens through which I see the world. I was raised by very principled people, who taught me how much your individual actions impact everyone. A family is a team as well. My grandfather would point at his first name, and say, “That’s my name,” then point at my last name, and say, “that’s our name. Every time you walk out the door, that’s who you are.” When I work, I see the world the same way, the need to be a principled person who’s part of a larger team, and constantly working to build respect and trust. Being in the NFL was more expected than being at Google, but these things don’t change.

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