Who's Afraid of Big Bad Google? – Still Lots of Room for Innovation

In the web space we often think of Google as the category killer. All of our marketing efforts are focused on Google, what Google does, how Google changes the algorithm and what the next Google Innovative App is going to be. But Google doesn't own the market on innovation, in fact they don't even "own" the market on search or social media. What Google owns is… [Let me get back to that in a second.]

As Twitter popped up out from under Google's watchful eye in 2006, Google tried to counter by buying Plurk and then shuttered it. [Plunk!] So how did such a game-changing app get built and launched without Google influence? And is Google worried about Twitter and Tweeterville?

And about that Google influence. Some of the smartest people on the web are at or from Google. My favorite aggregation site, FriendFeed was built by a bunch of ex-Googlers.

So what does Google OWN?

Google has 7_% of the search market. Google's AdWords and Paid Search Models are best-in-class and quite profitable. And Google is definitely an innovator.

But Google is also a behemoth that has begun to lose touch with much of the internet population.

I recently stumbled across a long thread on TechCrunch by exGooglers about why they left Google. And I will give some of the highlights here and let you read the LONG post if you are interested in more data.

Why Google Employees Quit – from techcrunch
http://www.techcrunch.com/2009/01/18/why-google-employees-quit/

Those of us who failed to thrive at Google are faced with some pretty serious questions about ourselves. Just seeing that other people ran into the same issues is a huge relief. Google is supposed to be some kind of Nirvana, so if you can’t be happy there how will you ever be happy? It’s supposed to be the ultimate font of technical resources, so if you can’t be productive there how will you ever be productive?

The truth is that Google can be a really horrible place to work if you happen to run up against its shortcomings. Not liking it and/or not being successful there is not a good indicator of personal competence (and if you think about it you may realize that some Googlers are successful despite being incompetent, so it works the other way too.) With so much positive press about Google it is very difficult to put a negative experience there in perspective. This thread serves to balance the picture and gives us a, sometimes badly needed, lens through which to view our experience at Google and re-evaluate ourselves.

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I think that a big part of it is that Googlers are supposed to be totally “A” players who just always make things work out well. And there’s some truth to that: for each of us here with a bitter story to tell there are other people who landed in pretty much the exact same situation and ended up loving it (and a lot more who put up with it and kept their mouths shut). So, until it gets hard for Google to hire top talent, I don’t think the kind of complaints that have been raised here will become a priority at the Googleplex.

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Make it easier for people to switch managers if the fit is egregious. [my personal favorite innovative idea]

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Of course nothing stays the same but you when working with a team where politics, egos and bullshit didn’t
exist and suddenly it did, you can’t help but feel confused. You read so much about how amazing it is to work at Google and for the first two years it was. I was empowered, promoted, treated with respect and honesty. Before I left it was a place full of quiet moans, talented people being undermined and a structure that created hostility and politics.

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I mean, what do you expect? You’re 1 in 30,000 where most of your peers are either extremely smart or extremely competitive or both. Honestly, when the degree of compensation (bonus) is based on merit then you’re setting yourself up for disappointment unless you have an IQ of 300 or you’re willing to work until your eyes bleed.

Secondly, if you don’t work in engineering then forget about it. Google is a company run by engineers.

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There's a lot more in the post. It is an interesting read to understand some of the culture inside Google that does not match with the mythic nirvana-ish Google we imagine. As any company gets HUGE the structures change. And as the reorgs continue to come in waves, as management shifts new players in and then executes them when the company performance is not what they wanted, the culture becomes more fractured. How many times at one of my former jobs were people surprised that I was loving it and thriving at such a massive sweatshop-legendary company? And the phrase was always easy off my tongue, "It all depends on your manager." And boy did I learn the bitter truth of that.

A couple more exGoogle quotes for good measure.

I felt like my team spent so much time trying to figure what was coming down the pipe next, who was leaving next, etc that it wasted a lot of energy.

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My bitterness is almost entirely because of my manager. He was in my orientation group in Mt. View and seemed like a good egg at the time. Just as Google can be a great place for the software engineer to do great work unencumbered, it’s also possible for a manger to be a complete jerk unencumbered. Tho the other members of the group (that didn’t leave sooner) thought that they could put up with anything to work at Google they did notice my manager’s particular irrationality when dealing with me. There were only two days of my six months there that I didn’t dread going to work.

So in a company the size of Google your manager is your lifeline. If you are supported, given honest and accurate information, and work with a team that moves past the 5 dysfunctions, you might thrive. If your manager is looking out for their best interests over yours or your teammates, then you will have a harder time.

And if your manager's presentations to their manager does not contain direct references to YOUR success and YOUR projects and actually contain YOUR name, guess what? Your manager's manager will NEVER KNOW WHAT YOU DO. Thus you will be expendable and ineffective at driving projects. And if your managers boss will not even take a meeting with you, and her assistant responds like this, "Her schedule is booked for the next month." Let's just say, you've been marginalized. And they might as well use a contractor in Bangalore or Korea. And those Project Mangers will probably have equal success and equal value to the company. And those poor souls will probably be equally as expendable.

So what does Google have on everyone else?

They do have some of the smartest people in the business. They are devoting a good chunk of their resources to Innovation pure and simple. And they will continue to roll out successful products and not-successful products. But the Twitters of the world will keep coming. And Google and Microsoft and Adobe cannot buy them all.

Thank goodness for that.

@jmacofearth
permalink: http://uber.la/2009/02/whos-afraid-of-google/