Semiconductor designers. Software architects. Stormtroopers. No matter your tribe, there’s one language everyone at NVIDIA speaks: geek.
Which is why the names of the 94 conference rooms at NVIDIA’s newest building, Endeavor, were already familiar as employees late last year began making themselves at home in Dagobah, X-Wing and Scarif.
And so did the stormtroopers.
Days before Star Wars: The Last Jedi premiered, NVIDIA’s own detachment of the Empire’s armor-clad shock troops from the 501st Legion, “Vader’s Fist,” descended upon the sleek glass-and-steel building and posed for pictures outside of the frosted glass walls of “Tie Fighter” and “Death Star.”
“We’re associating rooms with things we like and things we remember,” says Raymond Chan, a workplace strategist who works at NVIDIA. “We all go to them, we all use them, we all think about them, so it can really serve employee engagement.”
Putting Names to Spaces
The conference rooms at NVIDIA’s buildings have always had themes, making it easy to remember where conference rooms are located. In some buildings conference rooms are named for cars, in others famous explorers.
The names are more than just an exercise in geekdom. They help orient employees. If the rooms have only numbers, there would be just too many for anyone to remember.
“Numbers makes sense from a logical perspective, but if I say, ‘Hey, let’s go meet in room 1.10.111.09,’ who’d know where that is?” Raymond says.
Perhaps Raymond’s favorite assignment: naming the conference rooms in another of our buildings. First-floor rooms are named for Star Trek places and alien races, the second floor is starships.
No surprise that Raymond is a bit of a Trekkie. “I still remember that music, that great opening sequence, where Captain Kirk delivers that opening monologue,” Raymond says, recalling a childhood spent watching the show growing up in the Detroit suburbs.
A Fresh Frontier
As Endeavor, NVIDIA’s newest building, neared completion last year, Raymond realized he’d need a big bank of names — more than in any other NVIDIA building.
At first, he considered proposing place names from science fiction. But he quickly realized there weren’t quite enough memorable ones that hadn’t already been used in other buildings. So he expanded his proposal to include places from science fiction and fantasy.
NVIDIA CEO Jensen Huang approved the idea in June, and by the end of the month — with the help of a teammate and a pile of sci-fi and fantasy books — Raymond had his list of names.
As a result, Endeavor is filled with memorable names. Cruise around the distinctive three-sided building and, in addition to names from Star Trek and Star Wars, you’ll find names from iconic science fantasy are well represented, such as Asgard and Pern.
Not all of the places referenced are pleasant. There’s a Mordor from the “Lord of the Rings” saga and Mustafar from the Star Wars universe.
One of the most playful references: Mr. Atoz, a library (an area with long tables and low lights for quiet, focused work) on the Mezzanine. That’s a reference to the librarian in the Star Trek episode, “All Our Yesterdays.”
“If you’re a sci-fi and fantasy fan, there is something in this building for everyone,” Raymond says. “You start seeing people gravitate to rooms they really like.”
Smartphones: A Cure for the Obscure
While memorable names like Mordor and Midgar create landmarks people can relate to, smartphones — and Google — gave Raymond and his team permission to stretch for references that might be a little obscure, to some.
“It’s meant to be fun. If you’re baffled by anything, say, Hal 9000 or ‘Milliways,’ you can just pull out your smartphone and Google them,” Chan says. “It would’ve been more difficult to do that a decade ago.”
And it works. Walk through Endeavor on a busy day and it’s easy to catch snippets of conversation as people puzzle out the origins of Uniblab (it’s the name of the first AI depicted in mass media on the 1960s animated television series “The Jetsons”) or V’Ger (we’ll let you Google that for yourself).
The conference rooms are just one of nine kinds of spaces in the building — from communal tables out in the open to quiet rooms where phones are banned — so employees can easily transition from presenting to colleagues, to working intensely in smaller groups, to quiet, focused work.
Stop, Collaborate and Listen
“The real reason people come to the office is collaboration,” Raymond says. “If you can create an environment where people can come to work, and collaborate, that really is the key to success. It’s one of the key first principles for Endeavor — so with the conference rooms we wanted to make sure we had a premium experience.”
It’s a twist on the message of Plato’s “Republic,” where Socrates sparks a discussion with his friends on what a perfect city looks like, ostensibly for the purpose of planning the perfect society, but in reality to model the “city in speech,” or dialogue, the philosopher prized.
Endeavor, by contrast, is a sort of city designed to spark dialogue by connecting colleagues to each other, and some of the geeky ideas they cherish most.
So whether you’re a fan of Star Trek or Star Wars, prefer Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter, leaf through the “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” or the latest issue of Marvel’s Thor, there’s a place for you at NVIDIA. Literally.