At 7:45 AM on Monday the 15th, I and a bunch of really nervous-looking new employees stood together in a lobby at the Googleplex, waiting to be led in. Here are some random first-week notes while my eyes are still fresh.
This might turn into a series, because I recognize that my current employer is sort of a technology tourist attraction and people might want to read about it. On the other hand, it has a culture of very cautious communication, so I’ll have to be careful.
The John · But first I’d like to step back almost 20 years, to an occasion in the early Nineties when I was on-site at Microsoft. I noticed a pattern in the men’s rooms, time after time, like this: I’d be washing my hands or whatever, and some guy would come in, walking really fast with a look of urgency, headed straight for the fixtures. This was a guy who’d been so zoned in coding that he’d ignored his growing need till he just absolutely couldn’t any more.
Google’s like that, these days.
The Formalities · I haven’t been through that many orientation programs, but this one is very impressive. They pack in a lot of really important information while working hard (successfully in my case) to convince the people in the room that the company really cares about the incoming noobs.
Perks · Yep, the things everyone knows about, food and bikes and massage and so on; All true, and more. It’s a hell of a place to be.
Growth · Look at Google’s age in years and current size and do some arithmetic; insane growth is an everyday constant. This reality becomes obvious the instant you get behind the locked doors. Not many organizations have ever attempted to manage this much sustained growth for this time; to me it’s amazing that they manage to hold things together at all.
I now own part of the responsibility for dealing with this problem, which looks to me as big as any of the others I’ve seen so far, on either the business or technology side.
Smart Security · Sadly, that combination is rare. Enterprise veterans often come to associate “Security” and stupidity; officious second-raters who pollute your workplace and tools with ass-covering irritants that get in your way to no plausible end.
Google presents arguably the Internet’s largest attack surface. Appropriately, nobody’s talking about the volume and flavor of everyday attacks, but I bet the appropriate adjectives are “huge” and “nasty”, respectively. And those aren’t the ones that make the daily news. The people who are working on this stuff seem smart, the policies and tools appropriate, and to the (very minor) extent they’ve gotten in my way, it seems a small price to pay.
I am so totally not going to discuss any details, but wow.
The Grand Experiment · That’s what Google is. I mean, why can’t everyone lavish these sort of perks, and this sort of environment, on their employees? Well, because we’re at a weird time in the history of the growth of the Internet. At this (perhaps anomalous) point, the business leverage resulting from the focused application of human intelligence is so high that all these benefits and all this freedom, considered through a pure cold profit-and-loss lens, are cheap at the price.
Can it be replicated? Can it be grown? Can it even be sustained? Nobody knows. But I really hope somebody is studying it closely, because there are lessons here to be learned.