One smart guy’s frank take on working in some of the major tech companies

by on March 7, 2018 at 1:25 am in Economics, Education, Web/Tech | Permalink

This is from my email, I have done a bit of minor editing to remove identifiers.  It is long, so it goes under the screen break:


I joined Google [earlier]…as an Engineering Director. This was, as I understand it, soon after an event where Larry either suggested or tried to fire all of the managers, believing they didn’t do much that was productive. (I’d say it was apocryphal but it did get written up in a Doc that had a bunch of Google lore, so it got enough oversight that it was probably at least somewhat accurate.)

At that time people were hammering on the doors trying to get in and some reasonably large subset, carefully vetted with stringent “smart tests” were being let in. The official mantra was, “hire the smartest people and they’ll figure out the right thing to do.” People were generally allowed to sign up for any project that interested them (there was a database where engineers could literally add your name to a project that interested you) and there was quite a bit of encouragement for people to relocate to remote offices. Someone (not Eric, I think it probably was Sergey) proposed opening offices anyplace there were smart people so that we could vacuum them up. Almost anything would be considered as a new project unless it was considered to be “not ambitious enough.” The food was fabulous. Recruiters, reportedly, told people they could work on “anything they wanted to.” There were microkitchens stocked with fabulous treats every 500′ and the toilets were fancy Japanese…uh…auto cleaning and drying types.

And… infrastructure projects and unglamorous projects went wanting for people to work on them. They had a half day meeting to review file system projects because…it turns out that many, many top computer scientists evidently dream of writing their own file systems. The level of entitlement displayed around things like which treats were provided at the microkitchens was…intense. (Later, there was a tragicomic story of when they changed bus schedules so that people couldn’t exploit the kitchens by getting meals for themselves [and family…seen that with my own eyes!] “to go” and take them home with them on the Google Bus — someone actually complained in a company meeting that the new schedules…meant they couldn’t get their meals to go. And they changed the bus schedule back, even though their intent was to reduce the abuse of the free food.)

Now, most of all that came from two sources not exclusively related to the question at hand:

Google (largely Larry I think) was fearless about trying new things. There was a general notion that we were so smart we could figure out a new, better way to do anything. That was really awesome. I’d say, overall, that it mostly didn’t pan out…but it did once in a while and it may well be that just thinking that way made working there so much fun, that it did make an atmosphere where, overall, great things happened.

Google was awash in money and happy to spray it all over its employees. Also awesome, but not something you can generalize for all businesses. Amazon, of course, took a very different tack. (It’s pretty painful to hear the stories in The Everything Store or similar books about the relatively Spartan conditions Amazon maintained. I was the site lead for the Google [xxxx] office for a while and we hired a fair number of Amazon refugees. They were really happy to be in Google, generally…not necessarily to either of our benefit.)

I was there for over ten years. Over time, the general rule of “you get what you incent” made the whole machine move much less well and the burdens of maintaining growth for Wall Street have had some real negative impact (Larry and Sergey have been pushing valiantly for some other big hit of course).

So, onto the question at hand:

I know bits and pieces about Google, Facebook, Apple, and Amazon. I’ve known some people who’ve worked at Netflix but generally know less about them. Google I know pretty well. I’ve worked at a bunch of startups and some bigger companies. I haven’t worked for a non-tech company (Ford) since I was 19 (when I was an undergrad I worked in the group that did the early engine control computers…a story in itself).

I think the primary contributions the tech companies make to organizational management are:
significantly decreasing the power that managers hold
treating organization problems as systems problems to be designed, measured, optimized, and debugged [as a manager, I, personally, treat human and emotional problems that way also]
high emphasis on employing top talent and very generous rewards distributed through the company*

*only possible in certain configurations of course.

What also went well at Google: Google avoided job categories that were, generally, likely to decrease accountability:

Google avoided the job class of architect — which was both high status and low accountability, making it an easy place for pricey senior people to park and not have much impact (Sun Microsystems was notorious for having lots and lots of architects)

Google avoided the category of project manager, which would have allowed engineering managers to avoid the grungy part of their job (and be out of touch with engineering realities). I don’t know the history of that particular orientation — we did have something called a TPM (“technical program manager”) who were intended to make deep technical contributions, not just keep track of projects.

Google exploited “level of indirection” to avoid giving managers power over their employees or the employees excess emotional bonds to their managers.

hiring committees who would remove the managers from the process of hiring and (mostly, especially in the early days) project assignment

promotion committees who would judge promotion cases, removing the power of promotion from the manager (didn’t scale well, as indicated by the link I sent you)

raises had a strong algorithmic component; promotions and bonuses were both linked to performance ratings in a way such that getting high scores (at the current level) led to big bonuses, so if an employee’s case wasn’t perfect for promotion they wouldn’t feel they were incurring a financial penalty. That gave promotion committees more liberty to say “no by default” and managers less incentive to fight like badgers to get their people promoted.

What didn’t go so well
The industry has its own weird relationship to business:

product managers can be valuable if they have either strong business skills or a deep instinct for something amazing that should be built to create a business. Google (and others) explicitly treated product managers as “mini-CEOs” so they attracted a lot of people who…wanted to be a mini-CEO…but weren’t necessarily cut out for a CEO role. (At this point I have a generally low opinion of product managers and people who aspire to product management, with notable exceptions of course.)

Google- and software industry-specific: lots of developers want to make free software, lots of developers only know how to make things for other developers, so trying to be in a business where there’s deep domain knowledge required, or lots of actual business competition (where marketing, awareness, and business strategy are key) mean that overfocus on really, really smart software engineers as the almost exclusive hiring target makes it difficult to succeed.

Selling ads…I’m not in favor of it as an engine of commerce. Amazon has profound and distinguished power accrued over time by ruthless exploitation of scale in low margin industries where everyone is “making it for a dollar, selling it for two…” which makes them very dangerous for every competitor.

You get what you incent
product managers were rewarded for launching, which means they’d tend to launch and ditch
it’s hard not to reward managers for group size; Google was no different — this was the place where it was hardest to avoid fiefdoms that come with centralization of power

What degraded over time at Google:

Some things having to do with too much money, not necessarily related to tech management in particular:

sense of company mission vs. sense of entitlement.

pursuing company mission vs. individual advancement.

influx of people responding primarily to financial rewards (related).

Some things related to scale that might work better in an organization based on tight, interpersonal relationships (the opposite of the decreased manager power referenced above):
some processes implicitly dependent on people largely knowing one another or being one degree of separation apart (e.g., promotion)
the ability to reward creative, risky work; the ability to reward engineering work that had little visible outcome.

Other companies in bits and pieces

As indicated I’m very admiring of Amazon’s strategic approach and its business-first focus. Google did a lot of awesome stuff, but it had incalculable waste and missed opportunities because of the level of pampering and scattershot approach. If you want a real tech company model, I’d pick Amazon (even though I’m not sure I’d ever work there).

Facebook is kind of nothing. It’s a product company and I (personally) don’t think the product is very compelling. I think they hit a moment and will see the fate of MySpace in time. I can’t pick out product innovations that were particularly awesome (other than incubating on college campuses and exploiting sex more or less tastefully). And, their infrastructure is pretty crude which means they’ll run into the problem, eventually, hiring the kind of people who can do the kind of scaling they’re going to need.

Apple — I don’t know a ton about them currently, but they’re old. Real old. I interviewed there some time ago and they told me they like to set arbitrary deadlines for their projects because once people are late they work harder. I didn’t pursue the job further, although I have no idea if that’s any sort of a broad practice or a current practice. What they *do* epitomize is the notion that new business models are more important than new technologies so things like flat rate data plans, $.99 songs, not licensing their OS, are real, interesting tech company contributions — I haven’t seen much of that sort of thing since Steve Jobs died, but I’m also not that close to them. That’s obviously not exclusive to tech companies, but something that may be more possible where you have new inventions.

Microsoft — the epitome of high pressure big software, abuse of market dominance, decline, and then pivot into new relevance. IBM II. I don’t know that there’s much about their culture or current business that’s particularly admirable. They’ve got this “partner” system that’s insane where they’ve set up a high stakes internal competition that just looks terrible for any kind of team cohesion or morale. I wouldn’t want to work there, either, although (like Amazon) I have a number of friends I really respect who work there. Generally, there are tradeoffs for having an environment with lots of competition for material rewards — I don’t personally like them so they won’t attract people like me… so I’d like to believe they’re terrible for business…although I’m not at all sure that’s true.

Netflix — little info, really. Competent and pivoting but I don’t know much good or bad.

Amazon — totally admirable, really scary, really effective, and very business-focused. Changing capex into opex via Cloud was one of those changes in business mode that I saw in Apple, along with “sell close to cost using Wall Street money so that no one can compete while you push down costs via scale so no one new can afford to enter the market.” They also are willing to ditch products that don’t work. It sounds like a hard place to work.


Challenges I see in other industries: low imagination, fiefdoms / politics, inefficiency, communication problems…all could benefit from tech company input. If you’re in a low margin, low revenue business…it’s just going to be hard without the ability to attract and retain top talent, which is usually going to have a money component. But, best practices certainly help along with awareness of the importance of things like business model, systems design within the business, communication and culture, relationships to power, politics, and incentives…

Remaining challenges in tech industry: scaling and incentives (and incentives at scale :). I also see a major extrovert bias, which might seem a little funny for tech. But, again, product managers (or, God forbid, Sales people) are all really subject to the “let’s just get some people in a room” style of planning and problem resolution. I firmly believe some massive amount of productivity is squandered from people choosing the wrong communication paradigm — I think it’s often chosen for the convenience or advantage of someone who is either in an extrovert role or who is just following extrovert tendencies. Massive problem at Google, which is ironic given their composition. Amazon had some obvious nods to avoiding these sorts of things (e.g., “reading time”) but I don’t know how pervasive they were or how effective people believed them to be.

I thank the author for taking the time to do this, of course I am presenting this content, not endorsing it.

1 P March 7, 2018 at 1:41 am

Does anyone know what he/she means by ‘reading time’ at Amazon in the last sentence?


2 Aaron March 7, 2018 at 3:57 am

Amazon has a sort-of policy that you’re not supposed to read a document before a presentation on it. Basically many Amazon meetings start with everyone being handed a document and silently reading it/marking it up before discussion. The theory is that if you ask people to read a document before a meeting, some won’t and then you’ll have to spend time explaining the document to them anyway, thereby wasting the time of everyone who read the document beforehand.


3 Anonymous Bosch March 7, 2018 at 4:37 am

Not sure if it still holds, but Bezos also forbid PowerPoint presentations; instead, people had to write short narratives which everyone read at the start of the meeting.

Here’s a former Marine officer making a strong case against using powerpoint in any decision making context:


4 mikeInThe716 March 7, 2018 at 8:08 am

Edward Tufte suggests that the sloppy thinking encouraged by PowerPoint was partially responsible for the Space Shuttle disaster.


5 The General March 7, 2018 at 8:11 am

The fact that all major management/technology consultancies use PowerPoint as absolutely central to decision making/client presentation processes suggests that there is nothing wrong with it and the marine is wrong.

6 P Burgos March 7, 2018 at 9:17 am

@The General
Is that supposed to be dry humor? Consulting companies aren’t there to make decisions, they are there to make people feel better about unpopular decisions top management has already made before hiring the consultants.

7 Ohioan March 7, 2018 at 9:20 am

@The General:

Or that the consultancies survive by their clients dependence on the consultancies, and PowerPoint help maintain client dependence.

8 Anonymous Bosch March 7, 2018 at 9:33 am

> “PowerPoint was partially responsible for the Space Shuttle disaster”

Interesting case. For an amusing take on the mischief it caused in the military, see

9 Hazel Meade March 7, 2018 at 10:06 am

Communication is hard.
Sometimes I wish there was a direct brain interface by which you could hook your mind up to someone else’s and do a total knowledge dump, like the mind meld in Star Trek. But what we really have is like this low bandwidth channel involving encoding information in these pitifully archaic characters and acoustic signals and then decoding them on the other end, and there are absolutely no universally accepted standards as to what these string of primitive characters even mean, not even a universally accepted set of characters. We’re like cave men scrawling cave drawing on the walls when we communicate with eachother, compared to computers. And this is why the AIs, if they ever emerge, will destroy humanity – they will actually be able to communicate with one another in precise language that specifies exactly what they mean. They will be able to directly transmit knowledge from one AI to another.

10 cthulhu March 7, 2018 at 11:42 am

Tufte’s bogus analysis of the Challenger disaster is a stain on his reputation; he should have retracted it right away. The late Roger Boisjoly, one of the key Thiokol engineers who tried to stop the launch, refuted Tufte’s crap thoroughly; you can find his critique online if you look for it.

11 Art Deco March 7, 2018 at 12:58 pm

Tufte’s bogus analysis of the Challenger disaster is a stain on his reputation; he should have retracted it right away. The late Roger Boisjoly, one of the key Thiokol engineers who tried to stop the launch, refuted Tufte’s crap thoroughly; you can find his critique online if you look for it.

PowerPoint did not exist in 1986. Boisjoly was no longer employed at Thiokol at the time of the Columbia disaster in 2003.

12 Daniel Weber March 7, 2018 at 1:22 pm

When you are Tufte, of course you blame a major disaster on the lack of efficient data presentation. That doesn’t make it true.

13 John March 7, 2018 at 1:48 pm

This paper examines the role of the Morton Thiokol engineers in the
decisions surrounding the launch of the Challenger, particularly with reference to an
analysis of this event by Edward Tufte.

14 Constant Reader March 11, 2018 at 8:00 am

That’s amusing, being as the Challenger disaster occurred in January 1986 and PowerPoint was released in 1987.

PowerPoint: not just toxic – time-traveling toxic.

We shouldn’t blame a leadership problem on tools. The underlying issue, as Tofte states, is that basing decisions on over-simplifications and priorities disconnected from reality leads to disaster. Would six-pagers have saved the Challenger crew with NASA’s culture in that era of go-go-go plus we-can-do-no-wrong? Would any tool have been able to do that?

As we hoard more and more data and crank out more and more information-spewing tools, it becomes more and more urgent to answer the question: present all of the information in the world, but if it’s indigestible or not immediately and urgently relevant to the concrete decisions leaders have to make, is it of any value?

15 Jeff March 8, 2018 at 11:08 pm

I work at Amazon. Docs force the author to think deeply about the topic, and encourage more thoughtful questions and decision making. I have only seen a PowerPoint during a presentation, never in a meeting.


16 Constant Reader March 11, 2018 at 8:05 am

But they also rely on a culture where thoughtful, data-driven decisions are a priority and deciders are held accountable for their actions.

You can write all the thoughtful documents in the world (and not just an over-literal engineering brain dump), but if they’re not read, and they’re not a clear input into the decision-making process, then save yourself a trip and just buy some Girl Scout cookies from the decision-makers and be the person who can speak eloquently about whiskey options at the happy hours.

When the decisions get disconnected from the outcomes and adherence to process becomes not just a factor but a replacement for the outcome – that’s a Day 2 bureaucracy.

17 BikeRound March 7, 2018 at 7:46 pm

It is a he. Women do not have the capability to do software engineering if you missed the last few billion years of evolutionary development.


18 Sarah Bitter March 11, 2018 at 10:40 pm

Maybe you think that because you don’t work with any women you think are very talented. Anyway, female computer scientists who were working last I knew are: Rosalind Picard (at MIT, affective computing), Nancy Leveson (at MIT, uh aeronautics), Daphne Kollar ( probalistic graphical models). Thus, the set of computer scientists includes women that contribute profoundly to the field. Thus, the data does not show that women are incapable of computer science.


19 jjb March 7, 2018 at 1:44 am
20 Kevin March 7, 2018 at 1:45 am

Apologies in advance for nitpicking… I worked at both Facebook and Google and I think these criticisms of Facebook seem out of date. “Their infrastructure is pretty crude which means they’ll run into the problem, eventually, hiring the kind of people who can do the kind of scaling they’re going to need.” Maybe in 2009 that was true but by now FB infrastructure and hiring are both world class. If you don’t use it then you might not be aware of the critical Facebook product innovations over time. In particular, Facebook didn’t start out as a mobile app, and it didn’t start out having a newsfeed.


21 Tech obs March 7, 2018 at 2:45 am

Facebook’s current model seems to be about ruthlessly copying or buying any upcoming competition. They are tracking through a variety of methods (including antivirus apps that people install on their phones) and seem to be ruthlessly focused on avoiding becoming the next Myspace. They bought Whatsapp to get rid of Facebook Messenger competition, copied Snapchat with Instagram Stories and recently bought tbh, a positive social media app that was just starting to get some traction.


22 Axa March 7, 2018 at 7:50 am

Survivor bias here.

If Google+ were still alive, we’ll describe it as “ruthlessly copying the competition”. Since it’s dead and few people remembers…..Google only produces original products.


23 Tony March 7, 2018 at 2:46 pm

O rly? I use it every day. It’s not exactly a hub of innovation, but it is very much in operation.


24 Kevin March 7, 2018 at 12:29 pm

It’s true that Facebook does a lot of copying the competition. The original Facebook product shares very little in common with the modern product. Newsfeed occurred in Twitter before it occurred in Facebook, Facebook wasn’t the first company to build a mobile social app, they weren’t the first to have a “like” button, et cetera. Social apps are all about the network effect – if you can build a technically similar feature to the competition, but get more of someone’s friends using it, you have built a better product.


25 MPS March 8, 2018 at 11:48 pm

I would add that we should be clear about what we are arguing.

Facebook’s ability to beat its competition by copying could be argued to speak to its strong organization (devil’s advocate: maybe it is just network effect). The speed at which Instagram was able to create a stories product that is performant, feels reasonably natural within the app, and is bigger than Snapchat, IMO speaks to a high degree of efficacy. And it should also be pointed out that, generally speaking, tech companies are reluctant to be acquired, so Facebook’s ability to acquire strong tech companies is also an indication of efficacy.

Innovation is a separate question. It’s probably remarkable that Facebook is in fact an aggressively experimental company, constantly trying out new ideas. It’s just almost all of them are either incremental or fail.


26 Vangel Vesovski March 7, 2018 at 9:19 am

My biggest problem with the tech companies today is their arrogance. When a CEO writes an op-ed piece in which she claims that men and women have identical natures you can understand that the company has abandoned reason and become a voice for activism. And no matter how smart the people are and how great the infrastructure, when the action is geared to advance evil, society will be harmed.


27 Reader March 7, 2018 at 9:49 am

What’s it like from the inside to be so obsessed with a minor issue?


28 Borjigid March 7, 2018 at 9:51 am



29 You sure? March 7, 2018 at 11:40 am

It seemed fairly significant a few weeks ago.


30 Reader March 7, 2018 at 12:18 pm

Everything seems fairly significant if you ride the 24/7 media merry-go-round.

31 Scott H. March 7, 2018 at 11:47 am

Ask the CEO that wrote the op-ed?


32 Anonymous March 7, 2018 at 11:53 am

Identity politics is the issue of our time


33 DevOps Dad March 7, 2018 at 2:00 pm

Because flawed social and business policies do not exist in a vacuum.

The US out competes our competitors and its high standard of living result from reality based, not wishful, thinking.
Elevating wishful thinking to policy reflects the road taken by Venezuela, Cuba, and North Korea.


34 Reader March 7, 2018 at 4:46 pm

Is there some prediction you’d like to make? One you can write down and check to see if you were right?

35 DevOps Dad March 7, 2018 at 6:43 pm

@Reader asks Is there some prediction you’d like to make? One you can write down and check to see if you were right?

I predict NASA will never capture the public’s imagination and that its projects will not be consider a rival to private aerospace companies.

‘NASA – Creating a culture of positive influencers who are empowered to use their privilege wisely’

36 Bob March 7, 2018 at 2:10 am

So where is all this “awesome stuff” Google developed? Google Docs? Google search is 20 years old. Other than that, there’s Gmail, which is just webmail and is 15 years old now.


37 Anon March 7, 2018 at 2:17 am

True but why do we all still use them ?


38 XVO March 7, 2018 at 8:22 am

It’s better than everything else. Disliking Google’s apparent political bias I tried to use DuckDuckGo and Bing, and I quickly realized that search engine’s aren’t interchangeable, Google’s search engine is pretty amazing in comparison. This goes for all of their products, they’re better than everyone else’s products, probably because they can afford to hire the smartest people in the world and have them work on their products.


39 Just Another MR Commentor March 7, 2018 at 10:03 am

Microsoft can’t afford to hire the smartest? I think you need to examine your priors.


40 MOFO March 7, 2018 at 1:20 pm

“can afford” is not the same as “does pay”. MS could pay as much as is needed, but do they?

41 Other Bob March 7, 2018 at 2:45 am

Google has all kinds of interesting, low level stuff that most people outside of tech will not get, but let them scale better than anyone. The best tooling in the business, and it’s not even close. Few people companies can invest like this, if just because investing this much for smaller companies is nonsense.

Their last real user facing winner, however, is very old: Google maps. Most other good projects they own we’re acquired, like YouTube and Android. I suspect that they will crush Amazon at cloud technologically, and they’ve not done it yet precisely because they cannot engage with customers if their lives depended on it. If they had Microsoft’s sales team, Amazon’s cloud services would be in trouble.


42 BC March 7, 2018 at 3:36 am

They may have just acquired YouTube, but they also integrated YouTube into Search. Search may be 20 years old, but it’s not just searching webpages anymore.


43 Tom T. March 7, 2018 at 8:05 am

Pornhub has a search capability too. Certainly, Youtube leverages Google’s search algorithm into another database besides webpages, but that’s an incremental advance rather than anything revolutionary. It’s really just brand management.


44 triclops41 March 7, 2018 at 11:44 am

To those of us who know almost nothing about search algorithms, it’s easy to say they’ve made only incremental improvements. The buttons look the same, search results have same format, etc. I suspect, though don’t have expertise, that a search engineer would be laughing at such a claim.

45 BC March 7, 2018 at 3:52 am

Was the “very old” Maps originally just for navigation? Now, of course, it’s integrated with Search so that clicking on locations brings up webpages and images. That makes it effectively a new product; instead of just a navigation product like the old Mapquest, it’s a map-based search product too.

Google seems to integrate its various products so seemlessly that people forget that those integrated products didn’t exist before.


46 Tom T. March 7, 2018 at 8:06 am

Garmin and TomTom had search capability too. Again, this is just another example of Google extending its existing algorithm to another database.


47 DavidW March 7, 2018 at 5:45 pm

Not exactly, since Google has long been building their own mapping database, which is leveraged nicely by Waymo, their autonomous driving project.

48 JayT March 7, 2018 at 6:24 pm

Garmin and TomTom don’t search my email for dinner reservations and then put reminders on the map for me though. The amount of integration with their other products and the amount of features (like Street View) makes Maps a significant improvement over any other mapping software.

49 BC March 7, 2018 at 3:32 am

I think their integration of search with Maps and Image Search and integration of Maps, Google Earth, and Street View is pretty good. Also, Translate makes at least some foreign language websites readable and hopefully will get better over time for voice and reading signs. Finally, if they really launch a live driverless ride service in Phoenix this year, I think that would be much faster progress than I would have imagined.


50 Kris March 7, 2018 at 6:25 am

Self-driving cars?


51 Dan March 7, 2018 at 6:52 am

Also voice recognition.


52 Otto von Doom March 7, 2018 at 7:46 am

Chrome OS


53 ʕ •ᴥ•ʔ March 7, 2018 at 8:16 am

We have a Chromebox that serves pretty well as a bedroom computer, but it won’t print PDFs, including boarding passes, which frustrates guests. Maybe I should buy a newer one with more memory, but that is the kind of “one bit of crap in an otherwise fine product” that typifies Google for me.


54 IVV March 7, 2018 at 11:07 am

Who prints boarding passes?


55 ʕ •ᴥ•ʔ March 7, 2018 at 11:09 am


56 Axa March 7, 2018 at 7:48 am

Translation: I’m still amazed at taking a photo of a text in paper or road sign and get the translation. Text recognition and translation in a bundle.

Google books: scanning the old stuff.


57 dude March 7, 2018 at 7:59 am

I liked the Google News Archive, where you could search a whole data base of newspapers going back centuries. It was extremely useful for teaching (and learning). Why did they get rid of that?


58 Richter March 7, 2018 at 3:02 pm

I just checked, because it sounded interesting, and it still seems to be up. Did it just go down temporarily?


59 ʕ •ᴥ•ʔ March 7, 2018 at 8:13 am

I say below “a lot of Google products are kind of brilliant and kind of crap.”

My Android Auto is more brilliant than crap, as an example. It is pretty cutting edge. I cay say “OK Google” while I’m driving and ask for directions to such-and-such restaurant in such-and-such town and it handles it. It will read texts that arrive out loud, and be pretty accurate at voice input for reply (comedy ensuses when my girlfriend and I talk at the same time).

The only “kind of crap” on that one is that the handshake with the car is pretty flaky. As an old programmer it doesn’t seem like the connection should be that flaky, it should just work or not. But it is tolerable.

Trivia, if I ask my car “who is president” it knows, but if I ask “who lost the election” as the next question, it has no idea. The state of AI.


60 Jonathan March 8, 2018 at 8:23 pm

Seriously? Where to start?
(1) Android: the largest phone operating system, seamlessly integrated with gaming, movie, and other apps. Combined with:
(2) Android Auto. An amazing innovation. Getting into your car and having a screen know where you’re going because you just used Opentable to make a restaurant reservation, since the reply email is read by Google and passed to the car which then comes up with directions to the restaurant without asking. Or having gotten an email weeks earlier about picking up your daughter at the airport and having your car tell you it’s time to go, along with traffic-aware mapping. Plus music sppd.
(3) Google App Engine: free (or if you get really popular) cheap infrastructure to develop and deploy web apps.
(4) Google Scholar and Google Books: any substitutes you have in mind for either? Google Scholar is fabulous for bibliographic searches. (I then use JSTOR to actually get the documents if they aren’t available.)
(5) Really smart search… try using Bing for a week or two… or a day.
(6) Google Assistant: a derivative category, but better implemented than Siri and less explicitly commercial than Alexa.
(7) Google Earth
(8) Google Translate: well integrated with search
(9) I’m tired of typing….


61 Nick Savage March 11, 2018 at 8:42 am

Google didn’t even develop Google Docs, it purchased Writely and rebranded it.


62 Andy March 12, 2018 at 7:23 am

The Google Search brand and original product are 20 years old, but the idea that Google Search is 20-year-old technology is ludicrous. The current Google Search algorithm (or collection of Search algorithms – autocorrect, ranking, question interpretation, translation, location, etc.) are a mix of old and new, all hidden behind the original interface. And then of course there is the incredibly well optimised data architecture and hardware configurations that allow this all to happen almost in real time.

Google Search 2018 is a different product from Google Search 2016, let alone Google Search 1998. You use it so often, that you lose track of how quickly it evolves. It’s like a parent who spends every day with their child — they are less aware of the pace of that child’s development than an uncle or grandparent who sees that same child less often, and encounters a noticeably different human being each time they visit. We are so dependent on Google Search that we are all much more like the parent than the distant relative.

The only way to really appreciate this is to try a few alternative search engines. Notice how your typos aren’t corrected properly, how synonyms aren’t matched, how you have to keep searching through multiple variations of the same concept to get the results you need.


63 Thomas Sewell March 7, 2018 at 2:22 am

Also being in the industry, most of what he’s posted sounds accurate compared to what I’ve also heard before from former/potential employees. I do think he (like Google), both overestimates hiring the smartest people and underestimates it. Sometimes it’s better to hire the best fit (Is having someone with a 160 IQ as the janitor really the best hire? Do you think the 160 IQ people you do hire are going to want to clean the toilets, even though someone needs to do the job?), rather than the smartest, in order to avoid some of the problems he details. It’s still incredibly valuable to have the smartest people in the right roles as long as they have the right experience/aptitude for them (or it’s the type of role where you can just learn it quickly) as well.

I _am_ curious how the commentator sees the recent Google scandals regarding the Damore PR fiasco and YouTube discrimination, mostly because that seems to be the biggest gap in his analysis. Too controversial?


64 Kevin March 7, 2018 at 2:38 am

For what it’s worth, Google janitors come from outsourcing companies, they don’t employ the janitors themselves.

The correct hiring strategy is different when you are Google or Facebook and have enough brand recognition to count on hiring a big fraction of all new CS graduates each year.


65 Reader March 7, 2018 at 9:57 am

“I _am_ curious how the commentator sees the recent Google scandals regarding the Damore PR fiasco and YouTube discrimination, mostly because that seems to be the biggest gap in his analysis. Too controversial?”

Trivial irrelevances important only to people whose hobby is arguing online (not that there’s anything wrong with that).


66 clockwork_prior March 7, 2018 at 2:51 am

‘have done a bit of minor editing to remove identifiers’ – You may believe that, but this person is easily identifiable by anyone in the least interested discovering who they are. Of course, the person sending the e-mail was undoubtedly asked permission after seeing the edited version, so one assumes they do not care all that much about their personal privacy.

‘If you want a real tech company model, I’d pick Amazon’ – And Amazon, at least in terms of how it handles the workers doing warehouse work, went with a much older fashioned approach.


67 Other Bob March 7, 2018 at 3:00 am

The text is generally dead on. An interesting comparison is between companies that have high bars of entry, but treat people very well once there, and others that empower managers to push people, and end up either getting people to quit, or straight out fire them. There is much extremism there in SV, and since this is an area where companies really are just guessing on, we see a wide variety of cultures. From places that feel like they are made of tenured professors pretending to live on a commune, to very stressful places that are full of palace intrigue. It’s especially amusing/dystopian where companies pretend that they are making objective measurements, when ultimately it’s all mood affiliation.

As I have said before, what makes this companies magical, or utter failures, is whether they can monetize or not. Some have money fountains and succeed because they can afford to over invest and lose a lot of bets (see, Google) those that copy them without money fountains often just fail. So ultimately, companies have no idea of whether they are copying a key piece of management tech or are just cargo culting.


68 Matthew Young March 7, 2018 at 3:02 am

I call them the flying car kids.
They did one thing special, the found the spectre bug.
I also found one other thing, they seem easy to manipulate in the sense that one knows a bit more than the smart kids then one can run a blog and tease them along.


69 Vs March 7, 2018 at 3:18 am

Why do you post his he said – she said gossip? I work for Microsoft and if you asked 20 people from different groups to write this piece you’d get 20 completely different pieces. Think about your employer. Ask 20 random people.


70 stasi March 7, 2018 at 4:15 am

if all 20 are as interesting as this, then go ahead.


71 Kris March 7, 2018 at 6:30 am

Now defunct, but there’s interesting stuff in the archives: Check out the comments sections if you dare; can be very alt-rightish, probably an early harbinger of our current times.


72 Guy Makiavelli March 7, 2018 at 3:57 am

Good article. Some points that stand out:

On the engineers:
> Google avoided the job class of architect — which was both high status and low accountability,
> Google avoided the category of project manager,
> That gave promotion committees more liberty to say “no by default” and managers less incentive to fight like badgers to get their people promoted.

On the business side:
> Google (and others) explicitly treated product managers as “mini-CEOs”
> I also see a major extrovert bias, which might seem a little funny for tech. But, again, product managers (or, God forbid, Sales people) are all really subject to the “let’s just get some people in a room” style of planning and problem resolution.

Note what this means for engineers/STEM graduates:

* there is one position for you: developer (entry-level, junior, “senior”).

* As a developer, about 5 years experience makes you a guru. 10 years might make you a super-guru – but only if you get to work on really interesting and challenging projects. Any experience beyond that is actually makes you _less_ desirable to an employer.

* the business side (“product manager” and their ilk) is where the money, prestige, and job security really lie.

Young people are already vaguely aware of this situation. Which is why STEM is attractive to geeky males who have no alternative career path that can actually give them a lifelong profession that is financially-rewarding, respected, and stable.


73 stasi March 7, 2018 at 4:18 am

“STEM” isn’t a career choice for geeky males. They haven’t weighed up a bunch of pros and cons. They are just doing their thing. They’re attracted to coding (writing their own file-systems).


74 Just Another MR Commentor March 7, 2018 at 4:54 am

+1. Just reinforces again what a truly horrible choice STEM is for anyone who cares about having a good career. Even in the supposed bastions of STEM it isn’t a respected skill-set. Starting salaries are good but you can’t support really support a family or anything on a STEM salary.


75 Kris March 7, 2018 at 6:36 am

I think “doing what you like” rather than just “climbing the ladder and making more money” factors into what people think of as a good career. Doing the extroverted “business” stuff that helps you climb is exactly the kind of thing high-IQ geeks generally don’t like to do, many of whom are perfectly at home in back-offices and out-of-sight.


76 Guy Makiavelli March 7, 2018 at 6:54 am

> I think “doing what you like” rather than just “climbing the ladder and making more money” factors into what people think of as a good career.

Sadly, these men choose to ignor the reality that “doing what they like” means that they will have to find another career when they hit middle-age. They also choose to ignor the way that management actively encourages a “geek culture” in which spending your whole life in the office is supposed to be “self-actualization” or something.


77 Just Another MR Commentor March 7, 2018 at 7:36 am

As Guy Makiavelli stated you still need to earn a good income and have some stability. A “career” in STEM precludes this – you will be out on your ass by 35 unless you are an absolute superstar or transition to the business stuff.


78 Hoosier March 7, 2018 at 8:44 am

And if you’re miserable all the money in the world doesn’t matter. This is the type of thing that you only understand if you are truly miserable. And, yes, there will always be people saying, “oh, life is always miserable, just suck it up and deal with it” but this is a very myopic way of thinking because it assumes that everybody thinks like you do.

Do a cost benefit analysis- does doing what I like provide with a generous enough living? Let each person decide what’s more important. Money and salary does NOT always trump everything else.

79 Just Another MR Commentor March 7, 2018 at 8:48 am

The problem is that you will be basically unemployed by your mid 30s if you follow the STEM path. A lot of the STEM career cheer leading you see is precisely because STEM is supposedly a great paying career. But it is not and those who encourage kids to go into it are liars.

80 Kris March 7, 2018 at 10:06 am


The problem is that you will be basically unemployed by your mid 30s if you follow the STEM path.</i

Sincere question: where do you get your data from? What you state here is completely contrary to my experience. Or perhaps we are familiar with different (mutually exclusive) echelons of the STEM industry. I am touching 40, and know a lot of people back from college and grad school (we are all CS graduates). Not only is the number of unemployed people I know exactly 0 but pretty much everyone I know has been steadily progressing through the ranks; many (but far from all) in management now. It could be that my experience and sample set is skewed, as both I and my friends got degrees (bachelors, masters, PhDs) from top universities in India and the US (I'm back in India myself.)

How exactly are you defining STEM and STEM jobs?

81 Anonymous March 7, 2018 at 1:59 pm

JAMC is just trolling. We all know STEM is well paid and stable. In startups there is discrimination against older coders but that’s a tiny, tiny segment of STEM

82 Tom West March 8, 2018 at 12:01 am

I’m trying to figure out where the “35 and out” business is coming from. I’m now into my 50’s, and of the perhaps 20 hard-core geeks I graduated with in university who were coding oriented, approximately 95% are still coding or are one step removed.
None of us are superstars, but we’re all competent enough that we’re all apparently worth our high five, very low six figure salaries.
And to be honest, most of the place I worked, 30-60 year-old programmers are not a-typical.
You do have to learn new technologies every few years (I suspect I’m due for a pivot into cloud computing), but that’s the field.
Maybe all the young programmers are in web services.

83 Careless March 13, 2018 at 12:29 pm

In case anyone reads this and is unclear: JAMRC is a troll/parody account. That said, he typically hyperbolizes sentiments genuinely held by the people he’s imitating.

84 XVO March 7, 2018 at 8:29 am

If you can’t support a family on a STEM salary, you’re not qualified to have a STEM salary.


85 Just Another MR Commentor March 7, 2018 at 8:42 am

STEM fields pay well for young people in their 20s but not afterwards. If you can’t start a second career by your 30s you’re toast, even if you’re good.


86 Guy Makiavelli March 7, 2018 at 8:59 am

This is way overstated.

There do exist companies that will only hire 20somethings. But the shakeout happens between ages 35-45. By age 50 most of the engineers have either gone into management, switched careers, or become “freelancers” (and in many cases freelancer is a euphemism for unemployed).

The % of over 45s who remain in R&D after age 45 varies geographically. In Korea and India it is basically 0%. In the US it is higher but in SV it’s getting to be more like India.

87 Kris March 7, 2018 at 10:11 am


The % of over 45s who remain in R&D after age 45 varies geographically. In Korea and India it is basically 0%. In the US it is higher but in SV it’s getting to be more like India.

I don’t know about Korea, but this is completely inaccurate about India. I’m almost 40, in R&D, and expect to remain there (unless I decide to choose a different career) into my 50s. The company I work for has lots of people in their 40s and 50s in R&D (many in management too.) Indian companies are not so eager to jettison experienced employees, even for programming jobs. Most new graduates are completely incompetent at real-world jobs and have to be handholded for a while. And job turnover is so high (younger people especially decamping to get raises at the drop of a hat) that companies have no intention of letting tried and trusted employees go.

Of course, I’m speaking from personal experience, which may be skewed. Where do you get your data from?

88 Sean March 7, 2018 at 2:58 pm

Stat – 20 percent of our EE organization (1000 people) is within 10 years of retirement. Worse for mechanicals.

89 minka99 March 7, 2018 at 11:15 pm

I am 62 and I have an awesome tech career. I began in the 80’s. I am now in a hot startup and it is doing great.

90 Guy Makiavelli March 7, 2018 at 10:56 am

In Korea I was at the HQ of a big company and was told that engineers are generally expected to leave when their manager is younger than they are. This was apparent from the appearance of people in the facility.

Regarding India it is evident from people’s linkedin profiles. Though perhaps MNCs are better than the outsourcing companies.

Forgive my bluntness, but when I was 39 I was also in denial.


91 Dan Hanson March 7, 2018 at 11:16 am

I don’t think this is true. It might be true in Silicon Valley, but there are software people everywhere.

The truth is that it is not hard to make $100,000 per year or so as a senior software person. Most of my peers were making that much by age 30. And I know lots of people, inluding myself, who are still doing it in their 40’s and 50’s.

This may not sound like much to someone used to Silicon Valley or New York living costs, but in most of the country a $100,000 salary is upper middle class territory, and if your spouse is another professional programmer, or a nurse or a teacher or administrator you can easily find yourself in the top 2% of family incomes on those salaries.

I don’t like the generic use of STEM as a monolithic category. It encompasses everything from botony or environmental science to civil engineering and astrophysics. These jobs are as different from each other as geology is from Archaology, yet we always lump them together.

If you get a weak degree in environmental science, you may not have much earning potential. Earn a degree in computer engineering from a good school, and you will be fine.

Career longevity is certainly an issue, but the real problem is burnout, or frustration/indifference caused by poor management. Most people who I have seen leave programming were not fired – they quit. Either they move up into management or sales, or they just leave the industry completely because they are tired of the constant deadlines, the death marches, the terrible designs remote architects create that they are expected to code efficiently, the need to spend so much personal time keeping up with practices and tools, etc. Learning a new language or framework is fun when you are young. Not necessarily so much when it’s your 20th framework or language and time spent studying it is time you aren’t spending with your family.

Programmers also fall out of the social scene when they get older and start families. If you are no longer interested in playing foosball at lunch or playing online games with team members after hours, you can eventually find yourself being the person who doesn’t quite fit, and it can hurt your career.

But if you do lose your job, I have heard that it is currently very hard for anyone over 40 to get a job in software development in Silicon Valley. Age discrimination is a real thing there.


92 cthulhu March 7, 2018 at 12:26 pm

Technically competent SW developers who are US citizens and have experience with writing embedded code can find jobs all day long in the defense industry; you don’t have the opportunity to make beaucoup bucks they way you might in Silly Valley, but if you’re good you can make a good living without going into management. And those jobs aren’t getting outsourced any time soon.


93 jb March 8, 2018 at 1:56 pm

I’m 65 and have been writing software for a living since 1980. It’s been great fun and well-paid. I’m not in CA, which may make the differen as others have pointed our. Many of my coworkers have been long-time coders as well. I was over 50 the last time I switched employers. I didn’t detect any issue with my age at the time.


94 Constant Reader March 11, 2018 at 7:51 am

This is a common fear, but I just don’t see it in the field. There is bias at some of the bro-tastic companies but that sometimes is just as much about cult of personality and how programmable -you- are. The recruiters are their own special level of hell because they frequently are just basically meat-based search engines, but if you have a solid background and track record of delivering -the kind of results the company is looking for- then age has not been an issue.

There bias is against people who seem to have been doing literally the same activity for 10 years – not because of the count of years but because of the lack of scope. That may not even be the case, but if you can’t articulate how you have not just performed over a period like that but learned and expanded on your capabilities, it’s harder to convince a new employer that you’re going to do that at their organization.

Experience always qualifies you for something -10 years of closing tickets and playing foosball on breaks to maintain good relations on your team qualifies you to be an ops manager, not a developer. Which is a critical job that can pay very well, it’s just not a line programming position.


95 Mark March 14, 2018 at 7:05 pm

I was hired as a lead software engineer at Facebook about two and a half years ago, when I was 59. I went through the all-day interview process, including about four whiteboard coding sessions, same as everyone else. The only age-related issue I’ve noticed during my time here is that guards often call me “sir”.

I don’t play foosball at lunch or go rock-climbing with the gang on weekends, but I review code thoughtfully and instructively, teach my much younger colleagues how to write efficient SQL, develop tools that I know others will need, figure out what’s missing on projects and jump in to fill the gaps, and ask lots of “have we thought about…” questions at project meetings. Maybe I don’t fill the work-buddy niche but I don’t think I’m viewed as an outsider either.

Back when I interviewed at FB, several friends around my age told me that with all their years of experience, they “shouldn’t have to prove that they can code”. My view is that decades of industry experience don’t contribute an awful lot to the knowledge and technical skills that can be revealed in coding interviews, but rather to knowing how to pick good projects, making your boss look good, avoiding blame, embellishing status reports, and all those things that they don’t teach you in school. I spent several weeks prepping for the FB interview by reviewing books on algorithms and practicing coding on a whiteboard. It was hard, and I don’t think many older guys are willing to put in that much effort and risk failing, especially in front of a 20-something interviewer who graduated recently from Stanford, Berkeley, MIT, or Harvard.


96 P Burgos March 7, 2018 at 9:28 am

@Guy Makiavelli
This isn’t really different than in any other profession. There is a pyramid structure to any hierarchy, so the same goes for lawyers, accountants, nurses, doctors, etc. The need is for warm bodies to do the actual work, so it is unreasonable to expect there to widely available opportunities for advancement beyond senior . After a certain point in time, more experience doesn’t outweigh companies’ estimation of a professional’s value relative to their salary history.


97 Guy Makiavelli March 7, 2018 at 10:09 am

@P. Burgos .. There are real differences between the tech and the other professions you listed.

Law and accounting in particular are fields in which “seasoned” professionals are perceived as having additional value (pyramid notwithstanding).

Whereas in tech, engineers can be independent-minded and difficult to manage; also it is difficult for the managers to have real visibility into which engineers are actually productive and contributing. So the focus is now on having a highly-manageable team using “agile methodologies”. Companies want to have tightly-knit R&D teams that “have fun together” while naively and peppily working around the clock in “sprints” to meet the ridiculous goals set by the Product Manager. Of course, to be naive, peppy, work around the clock, take orders (from people who are often clueless) and be dedicated to the team you have to be young.

Also: in medicine the intake at the bottom of the pyramid is limited by licensing and schooling requirements. Whereas in tech the companies are well aware that in order to maintain an “up or out” culture they “must put a lot of effort into recruitment of high quality entry level employees.” ( ). Hence the H1-Bs, the manufactured “STEM crisis” etc.


98 P Burgos March 7, 2018 at 10:26 am

I would agree with you that tech has a focus on youth that makes it different from law or accounting (although I suspect that there is plenty of tech employment opportunities in companies outside of SV that don’t have the same obsession with youth). However, both law firms and accounting firms do have an up or out culture where people are expected to work around the clock to rack up billable hours. Of course most accountants and (maybe?) lawyers treat this as an apprenticeship, not as a final destination, as most know that they aren’t going to make partner and that they will have a better work life balance (and higher pay) once they jump ship to work in industry. There are still definitely long hours at certain periods of time, but not in the same way that happens when your time is literally the company’s inventory. Also, in accounting and law, there is a limit to how much companies value (i.e. are willing to pay for) more experience. I do think that in law and accounting there perhaps isn’t a stigma attached to more experience, which may be the case in tech (where perhaps older employees are viewed as not having up to date knowledge or having knowledge of older ways of doing things that is actually detrimental to doing things the way that management wants them done). I would say that in accounting and law (and probably every other single profession) it is the business side people, marketers, and rainmakers who make the money, for obvious reasons. Still I would stand by my assertion that for every profession, most everyone is headed for a career as a drone, albeit some professions may afford their drones “financially-rewarding, respected, and stable” lifelong employment.


99 Guy Makiavelli March 7, 2018 at 10:52 am

I would say that in accounting and law (and probably every other single profession) it is the business side people, marketers, and rainmakers who make the money, for obvious reasons. Still I would stand by my assertion that for every profession, most everyone is headed for a career as a drone, albeit some professions may afford their drones “financially-rewarding, respected, and stable” lifelong employment.

In other words: in the 21st century knowledge workers (including PhDs) are commoditized – to the benefit of the entrepreneurial and managerial class. But somehow TC and others fail to notice this or comment on it.

100 IVV March 7, 2018 at 11:25 am

Thus gatekeeping to joining the entrepreneurial and managerial classes is key to maintaining the present system.

101 Googler March 7, 2018 at 9:53 pm

Not sure about other companies, but a mid-level Google engineer (~5-10 years experience and contributing well) earns about $250,000. A senior/staff engineer pulls in about $500k, and top-level engineers (who may manage people but primarily do techincal work) can earn a million.


102 Constant Reader March 11, 2018 at 7:00 am

Is that true outside the Mountain View/SFO area, where $150,000/yr is basically minimum wage due to housing prices/etc?


103 Constant Reader March 11, 2018 at 7:09 am

There are two ways to look at that “Developer” comment:

1. You start on the .NET/Java/LangX assembly line in a major employer, work your station, close tickets, age into the coveted “architect” title and leverage knowing where the bodies are buried into political capital. You work hard, take your job responsibilities seriously and in return expect a stable, well-paying job to be there until you lose interest in it.

2. You develop and maintain a skillset around coding, testing, requirements, operation and value. You work hard, take your job responsibilities seriously and expect that you’ll always have to maintain not just currency but relevance in tools, skills and standards, on your own without hand-holding or overtime pay.

2 is a STEM career as a developer. 1 is a path to middle management followed by early forced retirement.


104 Pearl Y March 7, 2018 at 4:11 am

If you enjoy reading posts like this, you can spend a lifetime on Quora. Comparisons between tech employers makes up about 85% of the content on that site.


105 Ray Lopez March 7, 2018 at 3:26 pm

LOL. I did not see the point of the post, except perhaps to highlight at one point Google had more corporate fat in it than now. I liked the part about the stolen food, seems fitting for a company with corporate fat.


106 E March 7, 2018 at 6:06 am

Having worked at both Google and FB, this post seems outdated and not particularly insightful about the tech industry in general. (e.g., FB leads most tech companies in terms of infrastructure, which can be seen through their open source work, such as Cassandra, Hive, etc)

The three points that the author made about what degraded at Google is very pertinent to small tech companies struggling to keep their original culture and execution speed though, that was an excellent point.


107 Reader March 7, 2018 at 10:14 am

Both Cassandra and Hive are inspired by and years behind internal tools at Google.


108 Thiago Ribeiro March 7, 2018 at 6:45 am

“And they changed the bus schedule back, even though their intent was to reduce the abuse of the free food.”

A snapchat of a starving America.


109 Anonymous March 7, 2018 at 2:03 pm



110 rayward March 7, 2018 at 6:55 am

Interesting throughout, but this statement stuck out: “Selling ads…I’m not in favor of it as an engine of commerce. Amazon has profound and distinguished power accrued over time by ruthless exploitation of scale in low margin industries where everyone is “making it for a dollar, selling it for two…” which makes them very dangerous for every competitor.” But selling ads is the business Google and Facebook are in using data provided to them for free by their product (i.e., the users). Tech is awash in money for two reasons: free data and very low labor share. On the latter, the share of income going to labor is something like 15%. 15%! As a comparison, Walmart’s labor share is roughly 80%. Cowen has referenced the new book by Posner and Weyl, Radical Markets, scheduled to come out soon, in which the authors point out that free user data is used by tech to create the AI that will reduce the labor share even more, and postulate that “without something basic changing in their business model, we may be headed for a world where labor’s share falls dramatically from its current roughly 70 percent to something closer to 20 to 30 percent.”


111 Tom T. March 7, 2018 at 7:41 am

“Selling ads…I’m not in favor of it as an engine of commerce.”

Does he even understand where Google’s vast money comes from? This post seems to be more about companies managing their image more than it is about the bottom line.


112 ʕ •ᴥ•ʔ March 7, 2018 at 7:57 am

I worked in Orange County, California, tech and this all sounds legit.

My only contact with The Valley was when Sun Labs saw some of my code and had me up for an interview. We reached lunchtime and it seems a critical part of the interview (in retrospect) was “what do you like to do for lunch?” and “Oh, I like to go out and eat a lot of things” was the wrong answer, because “we [the team of 10] go to the cafeteria and eat together [every day]”

Nice enough cafeteria, but it wasn’t strip mall pho.

It also explains why a lot of Google products are kind of brilliant and kind of crap.


113 ʕ •ᴥ•ʔ March 7, 2018 at 8:31 am

When I say “it explains” I mean that above article, and not that my lunch story is the key to understanding silicon valley!


114 Tom T. March 7, 2018 at 8:20 am

Other than via an operating system (MS, Apple, Android), are there any Silicon Valley companies that have actually produced (rather than acquired) a second money-making product?


115 Alan Goldhammer March 7, 2018 at 8:37 am

Were any of the MSFT Office applications acquired or developed in house? Obviously, they were not to the table first; Lotus 1-2-3 and WordPerfect held commanding market shares prior to Office. One could argue that the Office applications were not groundbreaking but they have made a lot of money over the years as they became default for corporations.


116 Constant Reader March 11, 2018 at 6:57 am

Visio was acquired. Not sure about the others.


117 ʕ •ᴥ•ʔ March 7, 2018 at 8:44 am

It is rare for silicon valley companies to have a great second act. Most often they come and go. They fade and are acquired. A few stick to their knitting and keep a product line going. Intel is the king example of that.


118 Andrew March 9, 2018 at 2:19 am

Maybe I misunderstand, but Intel is famous for changing their core business from memory manufacture to CPU manufacture.


119 Dan Hanson March 7, 2018 at 11:40 am

Yes. Amazon AWS, for example. They built it in house for their own use, then realized its value and opened it up as a product. It is now a massive source of revenue for Amazon.

Microsoft has had lots of non-OS successes. Their surface tablets are quite popular. They have their own web infrastructure to challenge AWS. XBox was quite a hit.

Lots of silicon valley companies have had multiple successes.


120 Tom West March 8, 2018 at 12:09 am

I consider any decent idea to have a 1 in 10,000 chance of big success. If it succeeds, and you have a pile of money, maybe you can up those odds by a factor of 100 to 1 in 100.

Thus I’m always mightily surprised when a company manages anything more than an evolution of their one success.

In that august territory, I’d put MS at two: OS and Office (maybe xBox?), Amazon at two: E-Store and AWS, and Apple at three: Mac, iPod, iPhone.


121 Felix March 7, 2018 at 8:30 am

What does the academic literature say about these different firm cultures? Can anyone suggest books/articles on, for example, Google’s approach to management?


122 Jane Gray March 8, 2018 at 12:47 am

Laslo Bock wrote a book about their HR management systems and innovations and problems. Very interesting.


123 Melmoth March 7, 2018 at 9:08 am

Odd posting for MR. Better just to link to it somewhere.


124 Steve March 7, 2018 at 9:15 am

Interesting the way he wove his perspective but nothing new. Could be half as long (speaking of effective communications).


125 Nick March 7, 2018 at 10:13 am

When a company prides the engineers over all others then Product Managers have a really tough time. They end up with products that have some of what they want and a lot of what the engineers did because it was fun or they delivered features and UIs that they would want if they were the user. I think that is where Google struggles. They have lots of great product ideas that are coming from engineers not product managers and so are not a good fit for Google. Medium and long term product strategy suffers. The business thinking about what the user or business problems are that are being solved come too late. Engineers demo their cool new thing and then product management catch it and have to make a product out of it. Is there a big enough market for us to make any money here? How can we monetize it. What is the unit of measure for billing, api calls, storage used, % of revenue? How do you actually measure that and demonstrate to the customer that they are getting value for money? If this is free to the end users how do we monetize the data we collect? Basic stuff like can we sell this? Will our brand work as a self driving car manufacturer or should we license or partner with Volvo and GM? Changing the culture and getting product managers that the engineers can respect is not easy.


126 Dan Hanson March 7, 2018 at 11:45 am

The worst UI’s I ever saw came from product management and central UX teams.

You are right that your typical engineer is not a good role model for user needs. UI’s designed by coders tend to be techie and terse and map to the underlying architecture rather than to the user’s goals. So that’s not good either. Good UX people should be engineers trained to do UX, but who wrk closely with the customer and the defelopment team. Sadly, that seems to almost never happen anymore. Very few companies are doing UX well.


127 Jeff March 7, 2018 at 10:08 pm

A good UI should map to the underlying architecture. As a developer, you can’t possibly anticipate everything the user is going to want to do. By making the UI reflect what’s actually going on in the code underneath, you empower the smart user to find ways of doing things that no one thought of beforehand. If the architecture itself is a poor fit for what the users want to do, that’s the fault of the underlying design, not the UI. Find the objects, the things the users actually care about, and model them in your design.


128 Robb March 7, 2018 at 10:55 am

Having engineers plan and develop products means that engineering concerns will limit and define those products. That is the main lesson of Apple vs Microsoft. To this day, there are engineers who think a command line interface is superior for users.


129 Nick March 7, 2018 at 11:35 am

I couldn’t agree more. I forget to note in my earlier reply that Steve Jobs was a product manager. He made them get the iPhone right.


130 Mike March 7, 2018 at 11:03 am

Unfortunate that the author wouldn’t let themselves be named. Very insightful!


131 ValiantVictor March 7, 2018 at 11:25 am

I’ve worked for a major “Googlesque” tech company (EMR giant in Wisconsin), manufacturer (had a one year noncompete that prevented me from doing anything relevant to my first job), and I now work at a health system.

The organizational management sophistication (mentioned by the post author) difference was shocking. The tech company , probably like Google, managed everything as a process and in at least attempted scientific/methodological manner. The manufacturer managed the company like they were a senior citizens group planning a bus trip to Branson, Missouri–nothing was measured or really taken seriously, tasks and outcomes were blindly trusted to department heads–most of him who had just been with the company a long time and didn’t possess any special expertise, and pretty much no one was fired unless they stacked up years of gross incompetence.

Some major distinctions that I noticed:

Managing low-performing individuals
Tech: Have honest discussions about how and why they aren’t performing, if improvement does not occur bring up the subject that maybe it isn’t a good fit, encourage them to take some time to find a new a job if they agree
Manufacturing: After years of ignoring/working around the problem, finally fire them. Unnecessarily pay out employment and years of lost wages while leaving the employee with a less stable situation.

Knowledge management/how to discover company-related information:
Tech: Learned some in orientation, updated in monthly all company meetings, had a giant company wiki that was as simple as searching google/wikipedia and incredibly comprehensive along with other searchable databases. If I didn’t know something I could general discover it in less than a minute with a simple search.
Manufacturing: Ask my boss, dig through file system, call someone in that specific department and usually be directed to someone else in the department who isn’t there right now. Getting simple answers/information was painstaking

Task/responsibilities/ownership assignment
Tech: Define specific tasks and responsibilities, if someone leaves transfer those items to another employee (or scatter throughout 5-10 employees), always due dates on everything. Was usually pretty clear if something was unsuccessful or incomplete who was at fault.
Manufacturing: Complete chaos, if someone leaves their knowledge is lost for all time and at times important responsibilities/roles are not picked up by anyone, no due dates or updates visible company-wide–had to call or ask about everything. Any negative outcome is ignored, or, if major, turns into a giant argument/fight/denial of all plausible responsible parties of any fault.

Employee assessment/feedback
Tech: Flat structure so you work with 100s of different people and have the opportunity to give anonymous feedback on them at any time. In addition that source, there is a lot of “hard data” metrics generated by a more process focused approach. Review process is standardized and easy to understand (assessments tied to percentile performance/benchmarked against all employees). Your boss conducts the review, you then review your boss on the same format. All employees are ranked within their position and bonuses/raises are handed out accordingly.

Manufacturing: Not very well-though out form (I gave myself pretty much all 5/5 because the standard for 5/5 was not very high–they bumped me down to 4/5 because “no one gets a 5” even though the definition was like “above average at X”). No formal opportunity opportunity to provide feedback on any employee (and doing so informally would be very taboo “hurting feelings”).

More general management:
Tech company: All distractions removed so you could focus on your work. No dress code, bus from major downtown living areas to campus/workplace, cafeteria with great food, any type of supplies/office needs taken care off behind the scenes, every employee has own office to allow great concentration. A lot of investment in “coaching” and focus on how to complete work/tasks more quickly/inefficiently.
Manufacturing: took 15+ minutes to decide where to go to lunch each day, 15+ minute round trip to go pick up. Open floor plan with a ton of non-work related social time and just general noise/interruptions. Office organization stuff impossibly hard. Didn’t seem to care if you were really spending time on work or doing random other things.

Tech company: Tons of testing (aptitude, personality, quasi-technical/technical), dinner, full day interview/tour with a dozen or so people (who likely will not work with you directly/be on your “team”). Original application only asks for GPA and ACT/SAT score
Manufacturing: Quickly review a resume (pretty useless IMO as it is extremely easy to embellish). Have 3 30 minute interview (one with HR who ask you the horrible and infantile personality type questions), one with your boss who is focused on competence but also probably personal stuff as well, one with higher level people who probably don’t even know what they are looking for but want some element of control. Pretty much no real assessment for a huge commitment (since they aren’t as committed to truth-seeking monitoring once you start working there).

I can outline a few more comparisons if anyone has questions about specific areas. For overall themes I would say that tech companies are much more process/logic focused (versus a traditional people focus), constantly want to record/seek/use information, are much more mature about having honest conversations within the company, challenging conventional wisdom/the wisdom of someone with a larger paycheck.


132 ʕ •ᴥ•ʔ March 7, 2018 at 11:31 am

I think sometimes I feel like one of those tech workers, talking to those manufacturing workers, about government. You say that something needs refactoring or process improvement, and the answer is “kill the X department/program/goal.”


133 Dan Hanson March 7, 2018 at 12:04 pm

You lost me at ‘everyone has their own office’. Most tech companies I can think of use open floor plans. Even more obnoxious than cubicles, Developers are sometimes situated basically side by side on large rectangular tables. In my last job I sat in a small partitioned space in a large open area, facing straight at another engineer on the other side and we had to spend our days avoiding accidental eye contact. There was zero privacy. Colds spread through the office like wildfire.


134 ValiantVictor March 7, 2018 at 12:15 pm

I think that depends on the company/location. I know Microsoft used to go with the individual offices. I’d imagine many tech companies in expensive urban areas have to switched to open offices to cut cost. A lot of the largers ones have open offices officially but also many private workspaces that you can go to if you prefer working that way.


135 Mark Thorson March 7, 2018 at 2:41 pm

I think cubicles are great! You don’t want the real tall ones or real short ones. They should provide just enough privacy you can pick your nose, but enough communication so I can talk over the wall and say something like, “Mike, why does a channel error reset the whole protocol stack?”. You want the cubicle walls to be just tall enough that someone of average height can see over it if he walks right up to it.

Open office plans totally suck. Individual offices hamper communication, though maybe if you removed all of the doors they’d be okay.


136 Constant Reader March 11, 2018 at 6:53 am

Well put, sir, and I like that rule of nose.


137 Millian March 7, 2018 at 2:06 pm

And yet, you didn’t stay at the tech company. Why? Maybe those institutions you miss are suitable for young men without children, and nobody else.


138 Millian March 7, 2018 at 2:10 pm

(To be clear) I mean that once a man has children and some security in his life, it’s unlikely he will put up with 23-year olds telling him to work smarter.


139 ValiantVictor March 7, 2018 at 2:30 pm

My significant other relocated for a different job opportunity–I would have stayed indefinitely. One other significant “push” factor is that the company’s customers (and consultants who work with those customers) pay much higher wages.


140 Careless March 13, 2018 at 10:14 pm

The pay wasn’t epic?


141 edgar March 7, 2018 at 4:55 pm

The saddest thing is all these talented individuals’ labors being exploited to promote a ponzi-scheme. Neither Amazon or Google have ever paid a dividend and never will given the megalomaniacs who run them. Price to book is fantastically absurd. Share purchasers are invested only in the expectation that a bigger sucker will come along. Their inevitable collapse will trigger another economic crisis. Sadly, their existence poisons most index funds. Probably the best argument for Chinese-style economic control.


142 Peldrigal March 8, 2018 at 6:17 am

The most interesting lesson I have taken from this thread is how big is the stigma, I guess among USA people, of being an employee.


143 John Thacker March 8, 2018 at 12:29 pm

someone actually complained in a company meeting that the new schedules…meant they couldn’t get their meals to go

This sort of admission is a clear indication that the meals provided should not have been fully deductible, and employees doing such should have had them included as taxable income.


144 seebs March 9, 2018 at 12:35 pm

Interesting stories. The stuff I’ve heard from Google has been somewhat-negative, and I note also that, at least in recent years, they’ve been very firmly opposed to remote work. Like, they were actively headhunting me, and every time I mentioned remote, they said “no, nevermind”. And then a few months later they’d try again. Sorta silly.


145 Rocketmail customer support March 10, 2018 at 5:56 pm

Interesting stories in your article I really like your story. I have one website that provides mail related information and support also whenever you need help then you can visit our site.


146 Jackie Jackson March 11, 2018 at 4:08 pm

It’s very much part of our daily life the social media. I believe we are really not given much power to do things and also there is really no privacy of our own data. This thing called Sphere, it’s an upcoming ICO, it’s created on decentralizing social network with allowing us the privacy control and able to earn from it!


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