As of this month, I’ve been an ex-Googler for a year. Sometimes I miss it, but my rearview-mirror feelings are mixed.
What I miss · Most of all, the bug tracker. Any employee can file a bug against any product and be certain that someone on the engineering team will at least look at it. There are certain internal-social-engineering techniques you can use to focus attention on an issue you think isn’t getting enough. Lots of bug reports are feature-requests and others are feature-removal demands, and that’s fine.
Given Google’s global impact, that bug tracker is one of the single most powerful world-changing tools that most people will never have access to.
I also miss the high polish of the internal Google-apps deployment. When you put your working life 100% in the cloud, and have really good sharing and collaboration tools, the notion of “office documents” stored in “hard-drive files” becomes more and more self-evidently insane. This is obviously where the world is heading; I hope Google gets more good competition.
I’m pretty meh on Google’s social efforts, but the internal G+ deployment was incredibly effective for community-building, self-organizing around one thing or another, and collectively laughing at the laughable.
Being paid partly in Google shares in the period 2010-2014 was pretty pleasing. And yep, the food is everything they say; I wonder if the Cloud café is still operating? There are all the other perks and goodies you hear about, but they were a no-op for a remote worker like me.
Working around lots of really super-smart people was nice, but I haven’t had to give that up, thank goodness.
Neutral · I’m broadly in sympathy with most of what Google’s trying to do. Most of the people who are paranoid about Google are mostly wrong. But yeah, individuals in Google’s management (and separately, Product Management) communities have immense power; and at the end of the day, they’re just people. Thus some of them are misguided sometimes, or have drunk too much Google kool-aid. Hint: Just because most of Google’s actions have improved the Internet doesn’t mean that anything that’s good for Google is good for the world, or for the Internet.
Yeah, I thought that a few of the policy decisions I saw when I was in Android, and then in Identity, were some combination of crazy, misguided, and damaging. But at the end of the day, that’s not a gripe against Google; because there’s no company that doesn’t have occasionally-wrong employees.
Google remains ahead of the industry pack on privacy, diversity, and community. But that is damning with faint praise.
The number-one popular gripe against Google is that they’re watching everything we do online and using it to monetize us. That one doesn’t bother me in the slightest. The services are free so someone’s gotta pay the rent, and that’s the advertisers.
Are you worried about Google (or Facebook or Twitter or your telephone company or Microsoft or Amazon) misusing the data they collect? That’s perfectly reasonable. And it’s also a policy problem, nothing to do with technology; the solutions lie in the domains of politics and law.
I’m actually pretty optimistic that existing legislation and common law might suffice to whack anyone who really went off the rails in this domain.
Also, I have trouble getting exercised about it when we’re facing a wave of horrible, toxic, pervasive privacy attacks from abusive governments and actual criminals.
Not missing · I’ve been totally public about my #1 gripe with Google: It’s a highly-centralized organization, based in a part of the world that I don’t much like. I’m not saying that’s a bad idea; it seems to be working for them. I’m not even saying that it’s a bad idea to do your next startup in the Bay Area, if you can handle the lifestyle.
But I do think the Internet economy would be better and more humane if it didn’t have a single white-hot highly-overprivileged center. Also, sooner or later that’ll stop scaling. Can’t happen too soon.
I’ve also talked about the other gripe: The distinction between “user” and “customer”. Yes, I understand why; see above. But in my four years at Google, I talked to an endless stream of developers and end-users — and enjoyed it — but never exchanged a single word with any of the actual customers paying the bills; which is to say, an advertiser. Maybe I’m weird, but that still sort of creeps me out.
But I’m not that weird. Obviously, Google’s managers and owners and employees would all love new, non-advertising-focused, lines of business. The best candidates are Cloud and Docs/Apps. I think their chances are better in Docs/Apps, and yeah, maybe that’s because now I see how ruthlessly competitive the Cloud biz is.
Lucky again · This business has been so good to me. I have yet another gig where I’m broadly in sympathy with what my employer is trying to do, and getting paid well for it.
From my current point-of-view, this gig is a winner. First, I’m in my home-town working in face-to-face mode. Second, I’m working for customers who pay actual money for actual services, and who I can talk to. And third, the customers are geeks just like me; understanding their problems is low-effort even when fixing them is hard.
Oh, another bonus: I no longer have to read the Official Google Blog, or official Google statements on anything; a human being can only take so much relentless sunny-faced cheeriness.