Thursday, December 08, 2005

Article: Google is evil, just like everyone else

Lately Google has been getting a lot of press for being innovative, nice, special, great to work for, etc. I have a friend who works for Google, and he says that he's making a boatload of money, and that it's "mildly better" then other companies he's worked for. Recently an article entitled "Google: Ten Golden Rules" came out in Newsweek, written by the CEO of Google. Of course, its self aggrandizing tripe.

Here are the ten rules, with commentary and snark, based on what my friend has told me and my own experiences. In reality, I'm writing this because I hate Blogger (why, why didn't I sign up with TypePad!? Why is it so hard to migrate all of my old posts?!) which is owned by Google. I imagine that its only a matter of time before is "accidentally" deleted and removed from the Google index...

#1 Hire by committee. Virtually every person who interviews at Google talks to at least half-a-dozen interviewers, drawn from both management and potential colleagues. Everyone's opinion counts, making the hiring process more fair and pushing standards higher. Yes, it takes longer, but we think it's worth it. If you hire great people and involve them intensively in the hiring process, you'll get more great people. We started building this positive feedback loop when the company was founded, and it has had a huge payoff.

This rule could also be called, Save Money By Forcing Your Engineers to do the H.R. work. Hiring by committee is one of the most painful processes you can ever endure. You have a small chance of getting the person you really like (unless everyone likes them) and have to waste a lot of time going to meetings that have nothing to do with what you were hired to do.

#2 Cater to their every need. As Drucker says, the goal is to "strip away everything that gets in their way." We provide a standard package of fringe benefits, but on top of that are first-class dining facilities, gyms, laundry rooms, massage rooms, haircuts, carwashes, dry cleaning, commuting buses—just about anything a hardworking engineer might want. Let's face it: programmers want to program, they don't want to do their laundry. So we make it easy for them to do both.

The point of this rule is to remove every possible excuse for going home and/or spending time outside of work. Eat at work. Exercise at work. Sleep at work. You should live at work. Oh, you're family is in town? The company car will pick them up, and they you can send them to the Google entertainment zone until you get off. At midnight.

Some of these are actually good ideas, such as free lunch at a decent cafeteria. If you work in an office park in suburbia, it saves a lot of work time to have good food for free on site. But I should I get paid $10,000 a year less just because some engineers are completely inept at running a household and doing the tedious tasks which everyone else on the planet has no trouble with? Screw being coddled, I can do my own laundry. Give me the money.

#3 Pack them in. Almost every project at Google is a team project, and teams have to communicate. The best way to make communication easy is to put team members within a few feet of each other. The result is that virtually everyone at Google shares an office. This way, when a programmer needs to confer with a colleague, there is immediate access: no telephone tag, no e-mail delay, no waiting for a reply. Of course, there are many conference rooms that people can use for detailed discussion so that they don't disturb their office mates. Even the CEO shared an office at Google for several months after he arrived. Sitting next to a knowledgeable employee was an incredibly effective educational experience.

This is the most blatantly misstated rule. It should say, "Make everyone share an office or sit in a cubical so that no one can close the door and play Doom all day." Having no privacy forces workers to work. And even then it only does so only mildly - in reality it just forces you to be more cagey about surfing the internet, or forces you to collude with your so-workers to avoid work.

A much better way, in my opinion, is to simply assign work with explicit timetables and let the workers do whatever the hell they want when they want, as long as they deliver quality work on deadline. But the worst nightmare of every manager is that someone, somewhere under their supervision, is jerking off and not working. They would rather remove everyone's privacy rather then trusting their workers. Sad.

#4 Make coordination easy. Because all members of a team are within a few feet of one another, it is relatively easy to coordinate projects. In addition to physical proximity, each Googler e-mails a snippet once a week to his work group describing what he has done in the last week. This gives everyone an easy way to track what everyone else is up to, making it much easier to monitor progress and synchronize work flow.

Managing by email is another way for managers to avoid doing their jobs. Rather then assigning work and tracking progress, simply force every worker to write down all of their activities every week and email it to their supervisor, and sometimes everyone in their workgroup. I had to do this for two years, except I had to do it EVERY DAY! and let me tell you that it was one of the most tedious and useless things I ever did. Every day I would simply copy and paste the email from the previous day, with the names of who I met with and what project I was working on changed occasionally. Annoying, tedious, useless.

# 5 Eat your own dog food. Google workers use the company's tools intensively. The most obvious tool is the Web, with an internal Web page for virtually every project and every task. They are all indexed and available to project participants on an as-needed basis. We also make extensive use of other information-management tools, some of which are eventually rolled out as products. For example, one of the reasons for Gmail's success is that it was beta tested within the company for many months. The use of e-mail is critical within the organization, so Gmail had to be tuned to satisfy the needs of some of our most demanding customers—our knowledge workers.

The stupidity of this rule is self evident? If you worked in a dog food factory, why would you force your workers to eat dog food? If your company makes indexing software, and you need to buy financial software, why not just buy the software you need? Why force an engineer working on a mapping to beta test an email program that will be filled with bugs? Here's an idea - pay professional alpha and beta testers to test your programs.

# 6 Encourage creativity. Google engineers can spend up to 20 percent of their time on a project of their choice. There is, of course, an approval process and some oversight, but basically we want to allow creative people to be creative. One of our not-so-secret weapons is our ideas mailing list: a companywide suggestion box where people can post ideas ranging from parking procedures to the next killer app. The software allows for everyone to comment on and rate ideas, permitting the best ideas to percolate to the top.

Google has its own internal list serve which they use to try and trick engineers into using so that they can't patent their own ideas. Junior engineer Bob comes up with the idea for Google Maps (which is a great application, btw). He posts the idea. Everyone loves it. Google makes billions of dollars selling the expanded version of the application and consulting with companies and government agencies that use it. Bob, who was dumb enough to sign a 50 page contract he didn't read, gets nothing (except maybe a free haircut).

# 7 Strive to reach consensus. Modern corporate mythology has the unique decision maker as hero. We adhere to the view that the "many are smarter than the few," and solicit a broad base of views before reaching any decision. At Google, the role of the manager is that of an aggregator of viewpoints, not the dictator of decisions. Building a consensus sometimes takes longer, but always produces a more committed team and better decisions.

This is horse manure. Basically, Google holds twice as many meetings before the CEO and executives tell their employees what to do. But the employees (sometimes) feel better about it, because at least they get to talk about it before they do what they are told.

Some marriages work via the some process.

# 8 Don't be evil. Much has been written about Google's slogan, but we really try to live by it, particularly in the ranks of management. As in every organization, people are passionate about their views. But nobody throws chairs at Google, unlike management practices used at some other well-known technology companies. We foster to create an atmosphere of tolerance and respect, not a company full of yes men.

Tech people hate Microsoft. Most people with Windows running on their computers hate Microsoft. Anyone who owns a Mac really hates Microsoft. Anything Google can do to act unlike Microsoft is good, because it gives them better PR. Microsoft is the "evil corporation" of our age - so Google made its motto, "Don't be evil."

FYI, Google is evil. The ultimate result of their efforts will be vastly less privacy for all people everywhere. It's only a matter of time before you type in someone's name or basic information into a multi-tabbed search page and retrieve a person's address, phone number, driver's license number, Social Security number, profile, Friendster profile, property tax records, picture, blog, and any other personal information available online. Because right now, a sophisticated 14 year old can do that now with one hour's work and your full name, if its spelled correctly. Useful, but evil.

# 9 Data drive decisions. At Google, almost every decision is based on quantitative analysis. We've built systems to manage information, not only on the Internet at large, but also internally. We have dozens of analysts who plow through the data, analyze performance metrics and plot trends to keep us as up to date as possible. We have a raft of online "dashboards" for every business we work in that provide up-to-the-minute snapshots of where we are.

If 80% of your employees are engineers and computer programmers, they are going to bitch to high hell every time an MBA makes a decision that "doesn't reflect the numbers." I'm actually guilty of doing this on a regular basis. Unlike the government though (which ignores data) Google is intelligent enough to create a process by which data is aggregated and reported on a regular basis so that it looks less capricious when the MBA makes a decision everyone disagrees with.

# 10 Communicate effectively. Every Friday we have an all-hands assembly with announcements, introductions and questions and answers. (Oh, yes, and some food and drink.) This allows management to stay in touch with what our knowledge workers are thinking and vice versa. Google has remarkably broad dissemination of information within the organization and remarkably few serious leaks. Contrary to what some might think, we believe it is the first fact that causes the second: a trusted work force is a loyal work force.

Not only should they encourage communicate effectively, they should encourage intelligence. And make money. And post pictures of puppies, because everyone loves puppies. I'm surprised that one of their rules isn't "State the obvious in an upbeat fashion." Really, this is just another excuse to hold more meetings. If they didn't trap their employees in their shared cubicles 24 hours a day, I doubt they would ever get any work done.

Having said all this, Google is a multibillion dollar company, and I haven't had a vacation in five years.

But Google made billions of dollars by inventing a profoundly useful technology. Not by innovative management techniques. Not by being warm and friendly to their engineers. Not by having special rules and processes and idea driven blah blah blah. Edison invented the light bulb, and G.E. is now one of the largest corporations on the planet. Google invented something everyone uses, and now they're making money. Good for them. But don't believe the hype.
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