Among Dave’s favorite Santa Tracker projects is the Google Assistant integration, where people can ask to hear stories about Santa’s journey. He also enjoyed updating Santa’s soundtrack. He admits the team got a bit weary of hearing Santa’s same song on replay, so they came up with multiple tunes. “We ended up making a video similar to the crackling yule log ones, but featuring Santa.” (Go ahead and give it a listen.)
Some highlights for Sam over the years include adding Google Maps Local Guides’ photos to Santa’s route, and Code Boogie, a coding game where you can teach elves to dance. He’s also personally responsible for Elf Maker, in which you can create your own elf. “I’m really proud of that!” And he points out Snowball Storm, too, which another developer made that he was particularly impressed by.
There have also been little updates, like asking the creator of the Santa Tracker font to adjust the type so people all over the world could read it better. Of course, not everything Santa’s team worked on…worked. “One engineer who focused on AI and human movement came up with this idea for a game where you could enable tracking on your computer and teach the elves to dance,” Dave says, “and they would mimic your movement.” But just before launch…they found a glitch. “If the tracker lost you for a second…the elves’ heads and arms would go flying off!” Santa and the team decided not to launch the game. “That game was sent back to Elf engineering for further work,” Dave says.
Once all of this work is done, there’s the job of bringing Santa to everyone else. Part of Rachelle Lacroix’s work at Google for the past five holiday seasons has been doing exactly this. “Using marketing channels and social media, I help make sure people around the world can easily find and experience Santa Tracker,” she says. Rachelle says she’s loved seeing the creativity from teams come out in our work with Santa, but simply being a part of this group is one of the best parts for her. “Technical and creative Googlers alike really tap into their childhood when they work with Santa,” Rachelle says. “So much thought and care goes into every detail — and the team takes this work very seriously! Still, we find ways to have fun … it’s hard not to smile at all of the playful holiday puns that pop into our meetings and emails.”
Dave and Sam both feel the same. “It’s been the most fun meeting people — virtually or, in the ‘before times,’ by cycling around campus — who I wouldn’t otherwise interact with,” Sam says.
As the team prepares to help Santa launch this year, the work is winding down, and Dave and the rest of the group will return to their normal jobs. Still, the once-a-year project comes with its benefits. “It’s like a minor celebrity status,” Dave says. “I’ve loved telling my son I work with Santa.”