March 15th is my first anniversary. When I’d been at Sun for a year I wrote how I was Angry at the Cat because I loved my work but I had to feed him before I could get online in the morning. Well, I’m OK with the cat now, but not because I’m less fully engaged. I’m not sure how this whole Google thing is going to work out but I’m glad I took the plunge.

I’m not mad at that cat because he died. He’s been replaced by another male cat who’s not very smart and also very demanding at dawn till fed. But that’s OK, because while I still wake up before the rest of the family, I get caught up right there in bed, usually via the Galaxy Tab which is also my alarm clock.

What’s Good · Android, more than anything. A year spent in intimate contact with its coalface hasn’t shaken my feeling that most things about the system are mostly right. As I’ve already said in this space, I’ve never met a more accomplished engineering group; it’s a privilege to be associated with them.

When I joined, it was obvious that the top three problems were Android Market, Android Market, and Android Market. Now that Market’s on the Web and about to get in-app payments, I think it’s lost its pain-points lead; still lots of room for improvement though.

I probably shouldn’t share my perceptions about what our biggest problems are right now, because almost all of them are under active attack and I don’t want to stumble into preannouncing anything.

Android has improved the quality of my own life too, and not just by allowing me to dodge the pre-breakfast yowls. I travel a lot and work with people all over the world, and having the Internet and a bunch of handy apps stuffed in my pocket has reduced the friction immensely.

It’s not just Android; Being a Google employee is, in A.D. 2011, a good thing. I’ve never been anywhere with such an intense focus on problems that are really important. Certain MBA-school graduates would probably sneer at the belief, widely held here, that if you solve important problems in ways that benefit large numbers of people, this will lead to good business outcomes, so don’t sweat the profit/loss in advance.

On top of which, if I stand for anything it’s for the Internet; and almost any investment that increases the usefulness of the Net, and the time people spend there, is likely to have positive ROI for Google.

Also there are fascinating people and challenging attitudes and, all cynicism aside, a huge amount of concern for doing the right thing. There are also [Gasp!] politics and personalities, not all of them pleasant, but that goes with being a member of Homo sapiens.

Also, the pay is good.

What’s a Problem · Being a remote worker, mostly. It’s just not a part of Google culture, and the Android project is particularly centralized. If you’re not spending a lot of time in that building with the dessert sculptures in front, it’s extra-difficult to be in the loops that matter; they’re not unwelcoming, they’re just super-busy.

My accomplishments here are very modest and so far don’t include any noticeable technology or strategy contributions. I have some ideas for things that ought to be done and so far they’ve failed to get any traction. So I guess I need to do less talking in the coming year and just build some shit.

I say jokingly that one of my assignments is to find a good company here in Vancouver for us to buy so that I can have a genuine Google office to go to. If I did, my employer might be reluctant to pull the trigger because <snicker> a huge number of Googlers, mostly but not all Canadian, would instantly start angling for a transfer.

Next? · I’ve been headhunted a few times, but seriously, who else out there offers this wide a view over the whole landscape of my profession? So the temptation hasn’t been very high.

Now that I sort of understand how the pieces of Android fit together, I need to invest some serious effort in understanding the Google back-end infrastructure, because to do anything that matters here, you have to work with it.

I’ve started giving a bit of help to the people working on “Cloud”-flavored stuff here, and who knows where that will lead.

So, thanks to Dan and Mike and the Hiring Committee and the others who signed off on bringing me in, to my manager for outstanding support and good advice, to the legal and PR people who’ve been absolutely great, to the Android team for building a wonderful thing, to Apple for keeping us challenged and hungry, to the advertising wizards who pay for it all, and to the search apostles who make everything possible.


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Daniel (Mar 15 2011, at 11:15)

<self_serving>I think it's still worth convincing Google to open an office in Vancouver :) Amazon, VWWare, Apple, Microsoft but no Google, seriously?</self_serving>


From: len (Mar 15 2011, at 11:18)

Google should take on the public safety market seriously. The major players are failing on the Internet and leaning on their past dispatch achievements without acknowledging the power of open data sources and off the shelf notification systems. State-based systems are inevitable but the vendors are trapped in selling to municipalities where local variations send the costs of implementation skyward. The standards are locked up by beltway consultancies (have we seen this before) resulting in far too complex XML Schemas that boil the ocean instead of hitting the sweet spots.

You have all the moving parts. Android based apps can play a crucial role.


From: Peter Keane (Mar 15 2011, at 11:25)

If part of your contribution to Google is supposed to be increasing the interest in, knowledge of, and engagement with Android (and Google in general), I'd say you've succeeded quite well. I don't think I'd call that a modest achievement.


From: Matt (Mar 15 2011, at 11:30)

Oh! Oh! Please yes, get that Vancouver office going and I'll be the first one lined up at the door. :) The annual email I receive to restart the interview process based on a reference by a certain mutually known developer at your company/former colleague is tempting, but... I like my city.

Seriously though, if opening a Vancouver office would get Google a huge influx of good engineers who love this city, that sounds like a win-win for the company.


From: John Cowan (Mar 15 2011, at 12:13)

Peter Keane: It's precisely because of Google culture that Tim is saying he hasn't done anything: "doing something" at Google means "writing code" and nothing else.


From: Tony Fisk (Mar 15 2011, at 14:23)

Hmm! Working for Google from Melbourne. Would it work? (Mr Agile Cockburn says 'no', but then cites an example where it does!)

I sort of back Len's suggestion plus. Look to providing a city's neural net. Not the "what's on" department, or even the current traffic density. Consider apps that report 'this bridge aches' or 'this sidewalk is feeling bouncy'

Make the infrastructure interesting and engaging. Perhaps then someone would start to spend money on it!

(From someone with half an MBA ;-)


From: Boris Smus (Mar 15 2011, at 17:01)

Motion to buy a good company in Vancouver, seconded.


From: Paul (Mar 15 2011, at 18:14)

One thing took me years to learn, that definitely could be progressively helpful for you, is to have set brainstorming and focusing days. Once a month I drop everything and just think about everything I could do better, even if it's just to eat every three hours, it matters and I follow those brain dumps ever month. Also try to proactive in everything you do, honestly complaining or worrying are the most useless things on Earth. If you ever question yourself, just pop over to YouTube and watch a chuck sheen video. Then realize life could always be worse... Then get back on the horse and run it hard. Good luck and thanks for sharing your life with us.


From: Mark Groen (Mar 15 2011, at 18:18)

It's been a year already?


From: Eddie (Mar 15 2011, at 21:51)

Was it a year ago or so when you were in Japan for the Ruby conferences? There are clearly some "problems" that need solving in the G8 with Japan currently at the forefront. Most worrisome at this moment is the health and safety of our Rubyist friends and key maintainers in Japan ...


From: len (Mar 16 2011, at 06:27)

Sort of? Thanks. :)

It's a generalization problem. We did that and pushed the data into Google maps. It works. The burden falls on the report engine where the transforms map to the local variations. Those can be significant but once you get out of the US where the consultancies dominate the money and kill off innovation, if you have solid local sales, you can do well.

In the US, one really should look hard as NIEMS and NIMS and understand the processes for declaring events and enabling the just-in-time cooperation of agencies over resources. A challenge is currrency of data entry. That's why out of the box thinking and sales over non-traditional data sources matters.

Bouncy infrastructure like bridges falls under Transportation. Integrating these is a sales point but also a boiling the ocean problem.

The next problem and not insignificant is map currrency. Google gets better and better as the choice. Teleatlas is very expensive.

If you generalize correctly, you can push health system information through the same system. The power of the system can be seen when a region experiences an "incident of national significance". So a key success indicator is scaling for local operations out the national or even international oversight. Current events are illustrative. The ability to bring in non-traditional collaborative entities is needed so once again, it's a generalization challenge.


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