Meet the Team: Mat Balez, Product Manager

Tuesday, April 19, 2011 | 2:07 PM

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Editor’s Note: We love highlighting our users here on the blog, so we thought it’d also be fun to introduce you to the people behind the Google Places magic. And, of course, find out some of their favorite places around the world.


Location: Mountain View, CA

What do you do for Google Places?

As one of the Product Managers for Google Places, it’s my job to make sure that Places is a great product. If it’s not, in any way, it’s my fault. If it’s trending in the right direction, that’s thanks mostly to the hard work of the people who actually move the bits and pixels around to make everything go right.

In particular, I focus on the broader experience we’re building with Places — the connections it enables among friends online, the various use cases, the integration with Maps and other Google products, and the user-facing experience at google.com/places. In short, it’s my job to (try to!) figure out how to make finding places on Google the best possible experience on the web. And that’s a pretty fun thing to be tasked with — especially because it often involves firsthand testing. I’ve had an incredible time over the past few months using the product to find (and visit!) lots of new and great places everywhere I go in the world.

As a PM, I get to think and listen to ideas, test them, challenge them, fight for them, prioritize them and see them built out into real things that real people use every day. With Places, it’s pretty cool to help develop something and hopefully make people’s local, daily lives a little bit easier and more delightful through the use of our tools. It’s especially exciting to do this at Google, where we have the opportunity to push ourselves and further improve upon the billions of searches for which people trust us to deliver the best results possible.

On your Google Places app, what are some of your saved categories? (Or, what are you always in search of?)

Tacquerias. I recently moved to San Francisco and the Mexican food in the Bay Area is just phenomenal. Many of my friends here have been around for a while and know some truly special and little-known spots which, naturally, I’m able to find using Google Places.

What’s one city you’ve been to that you absolutely loved, and what did you do there?

My wife and I lived in London for 3+ years and were pleasantly shocked by the quality of the food scene there. England unjustly gets a bad reputation for its food. Present-day London is proof of exactly the opposite and is well worth a visit for the culinary art alone.

Outside of food, a lot of other things about London turned our expectations on their head: just how green the city is with its ginormous city parks; the neighbourliness and quaintness of the little villages that make up greater London; the “despite-itself-efficiency” of the sprawling, messy transit system; the thriving art and culture scene that exists beyond West End theatre; and of course, the sunshine when you least expect it (like in February).

And London is such a great place to learn about the world. An Iranian friend of mine describes it as the “center of the world.” I’m not sure I’d go that far, but having grown up in small-town Canada, three years of immersing myself in the people, places and culture of London was an eye-opening experience that really gave me a whole new perspective and outlook on our interconnected world.

Name a place you have on your “Saved” list and why.

Flour + Water in San Francisco. It’s been highly recommended to me by friends on Google Places and it’s basically impossible to get a reservation. Something good must be happening there!

If you were an emoji (our little yellow mascot), what would you look like?

I would be an emoji with a toque on, for obvious reasons.


Tell us three of your Best Evers and why.

Hunan in London. Hands down the best Chinese food I’ve ever had and arguably the best dining experience of my life. While on the expensive side, it’s not unreasonably so, and it was worth every pence.

Romados in Montreal. Best Portuguese roast chicken you’ll ever eat (and my family is Portuguese so I feel like somewhat of an authority on this). Oh, and it’ll cost you less than a fast food lunch at your favorite burger chain.

Nopalito in San Francisco. Surely one of the best value Mexican joints around. The carnitas are to die for. They don’t take reservations, so call ahead to get your name on the list.

Posted by Mat Balez, Google Places Product Manager

4 comments:

Frank Reed said...

Mat - What is the best way to talk to a person (not in a help forum and using an actual voice rather than something digital) about Google Places issues and concerns?

Vanessa Schneider said...

Hey Frank --

We don't provide phone support for our free services — the Help Center and forum is your best bet:

http://www.google.com/support/places/

Thanks,
Vanessa, Places community manager

Maria said...

I love the Canadian Google Doodle!

Andrew said...

Hi, I've been trying to resolve Incorrect Google Places information for months and have not had success through google's suggested channels. This is causing my business quite a bit of problems - my customers are going to an address that is incorrect, and it costs me business. Can someone please help?

My phone number is 414-614-7725.
Thank you,
Andrew