Google EngiNERD Cuts Stress by Bouncing Tennis Balls to Federer
Atienza, 31, is in his ninth season on court at the year’s final Grand Slam tournament, one of 254 ballboys and ballgirls picked from about 500 candidates. His resume, which says he’s an “engiNERD” at Google, describes the part-time work: “Catch tennis balls and throw them back as fast as possible.”
The New Jersey native started working as a ballboy at the tournament while in high school at St. Peter’s Prep in Jersey City, and continued even after moving to San Francisco to work for Google, the biggest Internet search company.
“I have a very stressful job, and I ended up having the Google doctor telling me I need to exercise more and de- stress,” Atienza said in a telephone interview. “I can’t think of a better way of ending the summer than watching really good tennis matches.”
Atienza has worked on court in matches involving champions from Pete Sampras to Roger Federer. He brings towels to players, holds umbrellas for them during changeovers and sometimes even has to provide on-court extermination services.
During a third-round match this past weekend between 24- year-old Briton Andy Murray and 29-year-old Spaniard Feliciano Lopez, a moth briefly held up play when it landed near the baseline on Murray’s side of the court. Murray was unable to flick the insect away with his racket, and a ballboy failed to grab the intruder by hand.
Atienza, who was working along the net, grabbed a towel, ran over and scooped up the moth, allowing play to resume.
Site Reliability Engineer
A site reliability engineer at Google, based in Mountain View, California, Atienza bridges the gap between software engineering and system administration -- helping to overcome problems that occur in the company’s systems.
“My group, we fix things that break down in unpredictable ways,” he said. “The thing that makes the group interesting is that people have these crazy analytical skills that seem to get better under pressure. It has helped me tremendously as a ballperson. It’s easy to program as a ballperson. You throw something random that happens, and none of the ballboys know what to do.”
Atienza graduated with an electrical engineering degree in 2002 from The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in New York, and worked as an intern at Bankers Trust. He was an analyst in Deutsche Bank’s graduate training program from 2002-04, including a stint in London learning about currency swaps and other financial transactions.
He moved to California in June 2004 to take the engineering job for Google, and comes back to the Open when he can --staying with his family in Jersey City and commuting to New York’s National Tennis Center.
Our Next Armandos
Tina Taps, director of ballboys and ballgirls at the U.S. Open, said Atienza’s experience makes him invaluable on the court and as a mentor to younger colleagues.
“Armando is a great athlete,” Taps said in an interview at the Open. “He’s lean, he’s fast, he has great awareness, he has good hands. We want the rookies we select to be our next Armandos.”
Atienza, who has worked two men’s finals at the U.S. Open, said some players -- such as 30-year-old Federer of Switzerland and 31-year-old American James Blake -- are especially nice to ballpersons. Not all are as pleasant.
“Other players require more attention, and then there are players who are absolutely disastrous to work with and inconsiderate,” he said. “There are players who take their towel, look right at you, and then drop it on the ground.”
Not About Money
Atienza said he earns about $8.25 an hour as a ballboy and Amanda Korba, a U.S. Tennis Association spokeswoman, said the starting pay for the job is 50 cents less. Atienza declined to disclose his salary at Google, and Jordan Newman, a Google spokesman, said in an e-mail that the company doesn’t disclose compensation.
It’s not about money for Atienza, who said working as a ballboy allows him to feel like a teenager again.
“I don’t take jobs to necessarily get paid a certain amount of money, I do them because they’re fun,” he said. “When I’m here I don’t think of anything else, I think of a time when life was easier. It’s so refreshing to come back and feel like you’re in high school again.”
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