2011-04-20T21:11:56.443-07:00I ran into an administrator for the Knight Fellows program tonight at a book signing party for Steven Levy. We shared notes about the parallels between journalists and engineers and it reminded me that I had once put together this handy comparison chart describing Google and the San Jose Mercury News when I made the leap from the latter to the former in 1999. While the differences were great, there were some surprising similarities.
|The Mercury News (1999)||Google (1999)|
|>150 years as a profitable operation||<1 year as a non-profitable operation|
|Thousands of empoyees, many with more than 50 years of service||Tens of employees, most with fewer than 3 months of service|
|Well-defined roles, with 7 unions to enforce them||No defined roles and strange looks if you ask about them|
|Key decisions made around an imposing boardroom table by a committee with the publisher presiding||Key decisions made in the cafeteria line while a founder is loading his plate with baked organic tofu|
|All new products based on P&L projections for five years out||Most new products based on an engineer developing something Larry or Sergey thinks is cool|
|Products not released until perfect - this is the first draft of history and the newspaper cannot appear fallible||Products released as soon as they're checked for security and stability. We'll let users tell us what needs to be fixed|
|Smart, articulate journalists, who know what people really need, even if they don't||Smart, articulate engineers, who know what people really need, even if they don't|
|No tolerance for marketing, which is an unfortunate necessity, but taints the journalistic mission||No tolerance for marketing, which is an unfortunate necessity, but taints the engineering mission|
2011-04-12T18:46:59.140-07:00I got together with a group of Xooglers recently and heard a story that was new to me. I found it pretty amusing.
2011-04-10T20:10:24.316-07:00I'm about halfway through Steven Levy's excellent book on Google, "In the Plex," and enjoying it very much. He obviously did his homework and he drills down into topics I skipped in IFL, like the sunsetting of our premium ads system and the development of PHIL, the artificial intelligence system behind AdSense. I'm learning things I didn't know, even though I worked at Google at the time. There are, however, a few areas Steven and I both glossed over that I can expand on a bit. For example, on page 76, Steven mentions Larry and Sergey talked about underwriting programs on NPR in 1999, and concludes, "...thus began a long history of public radio sponsorship." Well, yes, but there's more to the story.Public broadcasting was an obvious promotional choice for Google. Larry and Sergey liked supporting worthwhile endeavors related to science and information. On the other hand they believed paid advertising was (a) ineffective, (b) unmeasurable, and (c) obnoxious. The felt the same about sponsorship of sporting events, which didn't stop the calls from event producers, TV salespeople, and pro and semi-pro athletes in every area from surfing to soccer. The most persistent calls came from one particular group."Hiya Doug," the drawling calls would begin. "I hear you folks have a real fast search engine over there. Ya'll know, we have some pretty fast engines over here too . I think Google would be a perfect match for BillyBobJimDale's NASCAR team. Think how you all's logo would look moving around the track on the hood of his car at 200 M.P.H."I didn't bother asking Larry if he wanted to consider it. His idea of an automotive sponsorship was to give $10,000 to the Stanford Solar Car development project. They pasted a barely visible Google logo decal on the side of their rolling science project. Later, we broadly expanded our automotive sponsorship program to include Carnegie Mellon's robot car entry in the 2004 DARPA Grand challenge. That got Larry thinking about new product possibilities that might someday make NASCAR obsolete.Just as we didn't do sports, we didn't buy TV ads. No Superbowl spot for us. But tasteful announcements on Morning Edition or a nice logo on NOVA would not only let people know we were hiring engineers, but would reinforce the idea that Google -- and its founders -- possessed an erudite intellectual attitude toward marketing. I liked that idea from a branding standpoint and included it in my first marketing plan, because it let us distinguish ourselves from our competition by NOT spending money on the traditional venues companies used to garner attention. And it made it easy for me to just say "no" instead of enduring longwinded pitches and powerpoint presentations about hospitality tents on the 6th tee at Pebble Beach.I was the point person for all our contacts with public broadcasting, because having spent more than five years at San Francisco public radio/TV station KQED, I had some experience in how member-supported media worked. It didn't work the way Larry and Sergey expected, which led to frustration for them, for me, and for the underwriting executives with whom I was negotiating. I began talking with NPR about sponsorship in early 2000. They proposed a package around their highest rated shows: Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Car Talk. The problems began with finding wording that would pass their review process. They wouldn't let us mention we crawled a billion web pages because according to their research, that was half of the entire Internet and thus too bold a claim -- it would make us stand out from other search engines by comparison and comparative language in underwriting credits was verboten. Okay. Well, at least we could have some fun with our Car Talk language right? Something like, "Google. A fast, clean engine for online searching. Never needs a tune up."No. No comparative language also meant we couldn't claim to be fast, accurate, or relevant. And since we had asked, no we couldn't include glowi[...]
2011-04-09T15:42:03.662-07:00I've previously posted some video of the Plex as it appeared shortly after I joined Google in 1999. Below is a photo taken by our first operations manager Jim Reese from an even earlier period in 1999. It shows Google immediately after the move from the University Avenue office in Palo Alto to an office park in Mountain View.In the beginning we all had wood doors and sawhorses for desks. Why? According to George Salah, our facilities manager at the time, it was because "They were cheap and easy to get. Larry and Sergey were proud of the fact that we went to Home Depot and spent $19 on these sawhorse legs and $125 on the wood doors. They didn’t even put any varnish on them. It was these unfinished doors and they just threw them on the sawhorses and barely even put any screws in some of them. They were falling off. And that worked for a while and it was great when you had these big massive CRT monitors that were heavy and you needed all this space on your desk for multiple monitors."In the photo the office looks relatively uncluttered. That didn't last long. When George joined those welcoming Eric Schmidt to Google as the new CEO in 2001, Eric pulled him aside. “Do me a favor,” he said to George. “Clean this place up a bit. There’s trash everywhere, broken bikes and toys and all kinds of stuff.” So George did. He brought his team in one night and swept up all the crap. The next morning Larry sent him an email.“Where did all my junk go? I want you to bring it back NOW.” Fortunately, nothing had made it as far as the dump and soon the halls were back to their customary state of disarray.Eric was a quick learner. Six months later he pulled George aside again, closed the door, looked him in the eye, shook his finger and said, “I don’t want you screwing this up.” “He wasn’t scolding me for a specific action,” George explained to me, “he was just warning me not to change things, to keep things the way they are.” Clutter might be a sign of a disorganized mind, but at Google it was often just an indication that people were too busy to clean up after themselves. That was not something Eric had any interest in changing.[...]
2011-04-04T21:16:38.611-07:00Jonathan "J.R." Rosenberg, Google's vice-president of product management announced today that he's leaving the company after nine years. I remember the first time I met him very clearly. Jonathan makes a strong impression. I wrote about it for IFL, but had to cut the section for length. In honor of Jonathan's departure from the Plex, I offer it here.******************It was January, 2000. Larry and Sergey had reluctantly agreed to the board of directors' demand that they bring in a high-powered leader to establish a product marketing group. No traditional consumer marketing person could possibly impress them, though. Jonathan, an executive at Excite@Home, fit the bill. He could talk tech with the best of them. As his potential subordinates, my marketing colleagues and I were asked to give our feedback. Jonathan had already gone through two interview rounds, so we knew which way the wind was blowing.At the appointed time, I awaited Jonathan’s arrival in one of our conference rooms. “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more!” Jonathan’s voice preceded him as he sailed into the room on a gust of enthusiasm. “Or close the wall up with our English dead! Henry the Fifth, act III, scene one. Would you like to hear the rest?”For the next hour, Jonathan put on a dazzling performance that included a torrent of words about product development, marketing, and the complete works of Shakespeare. Jonathan educated me on brand-building and statistics. He sprayed the whiteboard with pictures and graphs and circled the room as if tacking against some unseen breeze. His voice rose and fell as he rode over questions about working with creative teams, building collaboration and recognizing contributors. He left me awash in information, but skeptical about whether he saw subordinates as a crew of contributors or as galley slaves pulling to the cadence of his commands.My coworkers and I agreed that Jonathan unquestionably had the intellectual chops for the job, but that our nascent corporate marketing group would be swamped in his wake. The company was small enough that Larry and Sergey apparently felt an obligation to acknowledge our concerns, without bowing to them. They offered me a chance to chat with Jonathan again in a more casual setting.The Mountain View In N’ Out Burger is an unpretentious paradise for fans of grilled cow flesh. I’d never been there before, but once we arrived, I understood why Jonathan had chosen it. He spoke the local lingo. “A 3 by 3 is three slabs of meat and three slices of cheese. You can get as many layers as you want. Protein style means a burger with no bun and a veggie burger is a bun with no burger…”. There was no avoiding edification in Jonathan’s company.Once seated on the ketchup-covered benches, we talked about family and work and balancing both in the Valley and by the time I’d wiped away the residue of my Animal Burger, I’d decided he was not the Great Satan I had feared. I sighed. I could work with him, which was lucky for me, because one way or another, Google would have a product management organization. Our marketing group would undoubtedly be subsumed. I would learn from Jonathan, whether I wanted to or not, as we adopted a top-down structure and clearly defined roles. I braced for the changes, telling myself, “That’s how companies grow.”A couple of days later, Jonathan did the one thing I did not expect. He told us he would stay at Excite. It would be two years before he once more showed up at Google to claim the role of Vice President of Product Management. J.R. had passed when offered his first chance at Google, but Google's execs kept him in their sights and eventually nailed him. The question was, once they had him, what would they do with him?******************[...]
2011-04-01T22:37:16.402-07:00On Monday, Larry Page takes over as Google's CEO. Again. Larry was CEO for the first couple of years that I worked at Google, before the VCs won their battle to have a more experienced manager front the company and Eric Schmidt was brought on board. There are some interesting insights floating around the ether about Larry and the impact of his leadership on life in the Plex. I'll be sharing a few of my own thoughts on this Monday on Bloomberg TV, but here's a preview.One of Larry's last acts as CEO before Eric took the reins in 2001 was a reorganization of Google's engineering group. It was painful for all involved. I give the details in IFL, but essentially, most of the project managers who were overseeing the engineering group - giving performance reviews, maintaining timelines, protecting the engineers from random requests (including Larry's) - were not themselves technical specialists. Larry couldn't abide that, especially because they kept interfering with his ability to push through his own large-scale projects, including scanning every book in the world. So he held a full-engineering meeting and told the project managers in front of their colleagues that they were no longer needed. People were upset, and not just the project managers. Several engineers were angry at the change and the way it was handled and Larry was surprised by the pushback they gave him. That reorg was an inflection point at the company. Afterward, all the engineers (a number that grew into the hundreds) reported directly to Wayne Rosing, the new head of the department.Larry is a very smart guy. No doubt he learned from this experience that the most expedient course is not always the one that generates the least friction. After years of watching Eric's management, I suspect that he will have mellowed somewhat. Somewhat, but not entirely. For example, the Wall Street Journal ran a story on Larry's recent request to the product managers that they send him an email of no more than 60 words explaining what projects they are working on. A lot of new senior executives would take the occasion of their appointment to meet staff members, chitchat with them to create a personal bond, and inquire casually about their work in progress. Larry approaches things with a more rigorous efficiency.If Larry were to meet with 100 managers, at 15 minutes each, that would be 25 hours out of his life. If he can scan 100 emails in an hour, he would save himself a full day. Larry values his time more than the need to make his managers feel warm and fuzzy about having face-to-face meetings with him. Unless things have changed since I worked there, most of his managers (at least the ones with engineering backgrounds) understand that completely and would do the same thing. A side benefit is that this puts the onus on the managers to boil down their most essential projects to a few sentences, rather than rambling on about irrelevant subjects. This approach wouldn't work for most organizations, but it's pretty much expected at Google.Some pundits are asking if Larry's ascension will mean he lets his wild ideas run free, causing Google to lose focus on revenue generation. I have a couple of responses to that. First, Larry has a circle of people who moderate his more extreme visions and keep Google grounded. Chief among this group when I was at the company was Urs Holzle, Google's first VP of engineering and now a Google Fellow. Urs understands both Larry's vision and the constraints of reality and has an uncanny ability to make things happen that would seem to be impossible. But when something truly is impossible, he says so and Larry hears him. Salar Kamangar, who is now head of YouTube, was another person who filled the role of sage counsel when I was at Google. Larry respects Salar, who has proven time and again his savvy about business operations and the market for Google's products. [...]
2011-04-01T11:57:29.772-07:00Looks like I'll be cranking up the hype machine for IFL on Monday, the day Larry takes over (again) as Google's CEO. I did an interview with Reuters print and will be appearing on Bloomberg TV around 9:45 AM (Eastern time). Could someone stop by my mom's house in Florida and program her DVR?
2011-03-31T23:41:58.999-07:00“You know what would be funny?” Sergey asked me five days before April Fools’ 2002. I hoped he was going to say, “Soul Search,” the joke I had written up and given to him the day before. It was about searching the sum total of a person’s existence to provide answers only he or she would know.
2011-03-29T00:12:03.487-07:00April 1 is this Friday and I'm sure Googler Michael Krantz is sitting in front of a computer somewhere sweating bullets. I hired Michael after years of searching for a marketing writer who not only understood technology, but also had a well-seasoned sense of humor. Michael more than fit the bill. After I left Google, Michael took over writing the April Fools jokes that appeared on google.com, including Google Gulp and Google TiSP. Whatever shows up on the site this Friday will likely be his doing.April Fools became a pretty big deal at Google starting in 2000, when I wrote a joke that we displayed on the homepage called "MentalPlex." In IFL I give the backstory about how that came to be, and the disaster it almost turned into. After that experience, I came to dread the approach of spring each year. But our April Fools jokes were not restricted to pranks pulled on Google users. Sergey, our resident jester-in-chief, loved to tweak Googlers as well. Each April first, he would unleash a barrage of "official" memos dictating new corporate policies that were to take effect immediately.I saved some of the classics:I have noticed we have a number of expectant mothers. I thought this would be a good time for me to share some of my personal tips and techniques for a successful, quick and easy delivery. I will be teaching a series of classes on Wednesdays at 7Pm. This week I will focus on the three pillars of childbearing: breathing, stretching, and pushing. Please RSVP to reserve a spot and bring a towel and a partner. Regards, SergeyFellow Googlers, Our website is an important service for hundreds of millions of people worldwide. Therefore, we must go to great lengths to make sure we are as responsible as possible in posting content and making website changes. From now on, all employees who work on the website, directly and indirectly, will be subject to our new drug testing policy. Please pick up a cup in the kitchen and return the sample to Stacy’s office. Regards, Sergey Our company is growing quickly: Café lunch lines are long, so starting Monday, we will serve lunch and dinner as a potluck. Please bring something to share, enough for six. Also, our masseuses are overburdened, so we are putting in place an automatic buddy matching system so Googlers can give each other massages in their offices. To ease the demand for appointments with our onsite doctor, we will distribute the PDR (Physicians' Desk Reference) to all Googlers. If you have a medical issue, just flag down any fellow Googler. Thanks for your help: SergeySergey was also infamous within the company for his promise in 2000 to build a swimming pool for the staff when we finally booked a profitable quarter. When we did attain profitability, no pool was forthcoming. It became a running joke at our weekly TGIF all-staff meetings, until the following April first, we showed up to find a portable above ground pool in the parking lot next to the Googleplex. Chris from our operations group didn't hesitate to load his kayak into it so he could practice his rolls. When Google moved into SGI's former headquarters in 2004, we thought a full-size pool might finally become a reality. Instead, facilities was instructed to remove the bocce ball courts and install two endless pools for lap swimming in place. Evidently, the city of Mountain View required, or Google's insurance company insisted, that there be a lifeguard on duty when the pools were in use. It has to be either the most boring job in the world or a pretty sweet gig to sit and watch over two fifteen foot long bathtubs all day long.I'll dig up some more April Fools relics for my next post, but I have no plans to post a joke of my own on this site come Friday. Thankfully, I no longer have to think up something bizarrely geekish enough to make Sergey smile and family fri[...]
2011-03-26T10:15:16.291-07:00I found this post by Xoogler Steve Lacy very insightful. He gives a great view of what a long time Google engineer finds frustrating about the development process within the company, from an NIH ("Not Invented Here") blindspot to the myth of 20% time. A lot of the processes I describe in IFL that worked well within a small startup have evidently morphed into cumbersome bureaucratic obstacles in today's much larger corporation. Well worth a read.
2011-03-22T15:50:48.359-07:00With the ruling against Google's boook agreement today, I thought it might be a good time to resurrect this slightly revised post from the Xooglers archive.
2011-03-20T18:59:20.881-07:00Kara Swisher recently mentioned IFL in her column on All Things Digital. A nice plug, though Kara doesn't remember me from her days covering Google's startup phase. I'm not surprised. The press rarely got face time with Googlers who were not designated spokespeople. Our PR team, led by my boss Cindy McCaffrey, kept a tight rein on all communications, which meant that initially Larry and Sergey were the only public faces of Google. Other names joined the list of approved representatives over the years: Matt Cutts to address the webmaster community, Alan Eustace to talk about engineering recruiting efforts, and Marissa Mayer to speak on issues related to the look and functionality of Google.com.We didn't talk about marketing at all. We wanted everyone to believe that Google had grown entirely by word of mouth rather than through promotion. That was largely true, though not entirely. I talk about the philosophy behind that approach and some of the marketing efforts we did put in place in IFL. Basically, Larry and Sergey didn't like paid advertising and distrusted those who tried to use anything other than objective data to convince people to act in a certain way. To make sure I didn’t travel that wicked path, Larry told me the Parable of the Pompon. Shortly after the company formed, Larry decided to promote Google to an audience he believed open to messages about better ways to search. He paid a service to distribute cheerleading pompons imprinted with the Google logo at a Stanford football game. A local ad executive admonished him that the promotion was ill-conceived. Clearly, he told Larry, the fledgling search engine needed professional marketing help.“Look at this,” the ad man said, pointing at the black and white Google logo printed on the pompons. “This doesn’t represent your brand very well and it doesn’t make your company seem very professional.” As Larry told me this story, his normally calm demeanor gave way to agitation. “Who says the logo needs to be in color?” Larry demanded. “How can there be a ‘professional’ way to make a pompon?” The very notion that these things mattered enough to waste time discussing them seemed to frustrate him enormously. Marketing was not science – it was just – marketing. He had no faith that outside practitioners knew any more than he did about how to build the company’s awareness and he didn't trust those who made it their life's work to pursue the marketing arts. I often suspected Larry's views were based on observation of prominent industry figures such as Larry Tate and Darren Stevens. He just didn't see much value in my chosen profession. That made my role as marketing manager an exciting exercise in tightrope walking over an active mine field.Sergey felt the same way. My group once created some sales collateral for our advertising program that featured stock images of happy, smiling business people, along with actual quotes from real advertisers lauding our system. Sergey was outraged. "Either use photos of the real advertisers, or don't use any photos at all," he told me. It was morally repugnant to him to deceive potential clients by misrepresenting our current advertising base. Clearly we were ethically challenged to even propose such a thing, though in my experience it was standard practice.Eventually we reached an uneasy peace with our founders about the role of marketing, but it took years. And from what I hear, things swung the other way soon after I left in 2005. I've been told there were three reorganizations of the marketing group in that time, with the latest change an attempt to get back to the way things were before the first restructuring. Clearly Larry was correct. Marketing is NOT a science, because if it wer[...]
2011-03-16T20:54:26.000-07:00Final installment of the Dilbert logo saga, revised and reposted from the Xooglers archive.*******************The script Scott sent us for the Dilbert Google doodle seemed to pick up nicely on Sergey’s suggestion.In the first panel, the pointy-haired boss (PHB) sits next to the regular Google logo and says to his staff, "We need a new logo by Friday. Any ideas?"The next day, the “G" and "O” at the front of the logo are screened back so that they appear much paler than the last four letters. Dilbert says, "We could drop the first two letters."The PHB answers, "That's a no go idea."On day three, the last three letters are faded back and Dilbert says, "We could shorten the logo to three letters."The Boss says, "No, Goo isn't sticky."Those three panels were easily approved and became part of the final doodle published on the site. What didn’t make the cut were the fourth panel, in which Wally says, "The logo needs more sex appeal. I'll show you..." and the fifth panel, featuring Wally standing in front of the "OO" part of the logo as if the O’s are, as Scott put it, “his gigantic man-breasts,” while Dilbert says, "I find this disturbing."There is something inherently amusing in the notion of man-breasts. As someone whose own sense of humor runs to Mel Brooks and Dave Barry, I wasn’t terribly offended by the concept, but I suspected others would be. I was right.After sending it around to other Googlers, questions were raised about how it would play internationally, the use of the word “sex,” and the appearance of breasts (male or female) on our signature page. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, none of those objections came from Sergey, who found the concept pretty funny and opined that we shouldn’t be afraid to take a few risks. The irony of acting like one of the clueless companies Dilbert lampoons was not lost on him.I’d like to say that I fought for the concept and damned the shortsighted, small-minded philistines who couldn’t see the greatness inherent in Scott’s original idea. I’d like to say that, but then I would be lying. Frankly, I was relieved that I wasn’t the only one nervous about where Scott was taking us. I would find it amusing to see this in his strip, but not on our branded homepage, which we were showing to millions of people around the globe. They hadn’t come to Google expecting to see slightly risqué humor. They’d come to find information.My sensitivity to the subjectiveness of humor wasn't always as finely attuned. On more than one occasion in my career, what I had thought was funny had turned out to be less than amusing to others.I made fun of bagpiping neighbors in a radio spot for the Mercury News that brought the wrath of a lunatic Celtic rights advocate raining down upon me.I wrote a newspaper ad headline for KQED FM that said “Ed Meese is history” during the station’s broadcast of live coverage of the Senate Iran Contra hearings. The station president didn’t buy my argument that it referred to the fact that Meese’s testimony had ended the day before and we were now covering the next witness. He seemed pretty peeved when I kept trying to persuade him to run it anyway.And while at an ad agency, I pissed off the descendants of California’s most famous gold miner with an ad for a business school claiming that “When John Sutter found gold, he lost a fortune. He could have used an MBA from USF.”The editor of the San Francisco Chronicle sent a personal complaint to my boss at the Mercury News during a newspaper war for subscribers after the close of a smaller local paper. He felt my flyer pointing out that there were only two Peninsula-related stories in their paper compared to the Merc’s two dozen w[...]
2011-03-14T21:14:11.320-07:00Second installment of the Dilbert doodle story, reposted from the Xooglers archive.********************When last I posted, Scott Adams had just agreed to work with us on Dilbertifying Google’s home page logo. It turns out that Scott had spoken with a reporter about search engines a couple of days prior to our request and the journalist had recommended he try Google. Scott did a few searches and liked what he found. Serendipitously, we reached him when he was still basking in the glow of his conversion experience.I don’t remember the exact wording of my original email request to Scott, but I do recall trying to walk a very fine line between fawning and groveling. Being a Dilbert fan, I knew he’d be an excellent choice for our first cartoonist logo, though I wasn’t so smitten that I didn’t reserve (politely), editorial control over what would appear on Google’s pages. We weren’t willing to pay a licensing fee, but we were willing to shower him with branded Google merchandise. (Scott was later quoted in the press release we issued as saying, "This partnership exceeded my wildest dreams… I hoped I would get a free Google shirt, and I got three of them plus a mug.")One of Scott’s many fine qualities is that he answers his email promptly. I heard back from him the day after I sent my note and he seemed open to the idea of creating a custom logo for us, even without compensation. Sergey gave it an enthusiastic green light and Scott put me in touch with his publishing syndicate to work out the details.I’ve yet to meet an artist or writer who enjoys having their creativity corralled to meet the needs of a corporate entity, so I wanted to give Scott full rein within some broad guidelines. I sent a note to his syndicate contact outlining some size restrictions for the artwork and letting them know that we were fine with Scott playing with the logo in any way he found amusing.I also forwarded an idea that Sergey had for a storyline involving Dogbert as a branding consultant. The idea was that Dogbert, in order to improve the logo, would change it over the course of the week, only to return to the original at the end, while presenting a huge bill for his bad advice. This, I believe, was an accurate reflection of Sergey’s feelings about the field of brand management and consultants in general. I made sure to tell the syndicate that Scott could feel free to ignore the idea.Scott got to work as I pinged and ponged with the syndicate rep over legal terms for the agreement. Could we post Scott’s logos on our archives page? Would we put a link on our home page to their website? Would we issue a joint press release? Did we want to share the revenue from a commemorative mug they planned to offer to Scott’s fans?The syndicate okayed our archive page, we okayed putting the link on a splash page instead of the home page and we both agreed to the press release. The mug seemed a minor issue and I gave it little thought. I figured it was a gesture to Scott’s fans and would be a fun keepsake after the fact. Sure. We’d take our small cut on sales, though processing the payment would likely cost us more than we’d make on the deal.Everything was going swimmingly and for a day or two I rode the high of having brought together a successful co-promotion with two of technology’s best-loved brands. I began imagining a long line of great cartoonists vying to do logo treatments for us. Absolut Vodka had opened their bottle to interpretation by well-known artists and run ads featuring their creations. This would be even more integrated brand-building since the altered logos would actually become part of the product itself. I had to keep reminding mys[...]
2011-03-13T14:38:42.406-07:00A couple of years ago, I posted a three-part explanation of how Google came to create a homepage Doodle with Scott Adams of Dilbert(image) fame. I've edited it some and will repost the rest of story here over the next few days.
2011-03-12T16:48:39.196-08:00Nice piece in the NY Times on Google's HR metrics and the effort to build a better boss. I have a section in IFL on one attempt to restructure management and the fallout from that experiment. There was definitely a bias in favor of tech knowledge over touchy-feely management sensibility, which worked better for some people than others.
2011-03-11T21:06:23.612-08:00Not much to say about this clip of Google's first micro-kitchen, other than it was pretty distracting to sit at my desk knowing that as soon as I hit writer's block I could get up and stroll twenty feet down the hall to enjoy free snacks until my creativity returned or my stomach hurt. I favored peanut M&Ms, red licorice vines and Starbucks Frappucino in chilled bottles. Sometimes Charlie would bring up leftovers from lunch (like the pie seen in the clip). It didn't enhance my productivity.
2011-03-06T10:27:47.936-08:00More memories triggered by video of Charlie's cafe in the 1999 Googleplex. These anecdotes didn't make the final edit of the book, though plenty of other Charlie stories did.When the weather turned nice I’d join the race to the café’s patio, where wooden benches and picnic tables were crowded in as tightly as possible to accommodate the demand for space in the sun. I’d settle onto a rickety seat, squint into the light, and work at downloading a natural glow to upgrade my fluorescent tan. A small waterway wound around the deck and provided refuge for a family of ducks who grew fat on scraps tossed their way. When they disappeared, there were rumors. I scanned the menu for canard a l’Orange for two weeks until the ducks reappeared. It wasn’t unreasonable to suspect Charlie of fowl play, given his fetish for local ingredients and unorthodox procurement methods. I became as accustomed to meat substitutes seitan (wheat gluten) and tempeh (pressed-tofu) as I did the constant wailing of the Dead blaring from speakers in the kitchen. I also learned to live without ketchup. Charlie wouldn’t serve commercial brands, but eventually he had an assistant chef make it from scratch. He fought bitter email battles over the benefits of organic vegetables and the evils of their nutrition-free agribusiness counterparts. “Well, I for one * like * iceberg lettuce,” a staffer told Charlie once, perhaps as part of a bet to see if Charlie’s brain could be made to explode. “Iceberg lettuce is to food as polyester is to pants,” Charlie shot back, “and they’re equally nutritious.”Still, his antagonist foolishly refused to recant her love of sallow green produce. When she walked into her cubicle the next morning, it was adorned with a dozen heads, each with a kitchen knife or a pair of scissors or a ball point pen protruding from it in a grisly display reminiscent of the horse-in-a-bed scene from “The Godfather.” Charlie had broken his own rule and bought iceberg lettuce, just for her. *******In n’ Out Burger proved too much of a temptation for some Googlers. They’d sneak out for fast food before lunch and show up afterward in the café for dessert. Charlie always noticed if they did. He expected us to be at lunch and he took it personally if we weren’t.“Is that a burger I smell on your breath?” he’d ask. “Don’t expect me to cater your funeral when your arteries give out.” Charlie also had strict rules about servings. Engineer Chad Lester was famous for the prodigious quantity of calories he could tuck into his corn-fed Midwestern frame. He was the perfect eating machine – an avid bicyclist who burned off everything he ate and ate everything he could. But nothing stoked his furnace like meat. Charlie appreciated Chad’s appetite while keeping a wary eye on him as he pushed his tray past the entrees. “One per customer,” he’d admonish with a low growl as Chad reached for the filet mignon. Leftovers didn’t exist in ChadWorld, but sometimes a Googler just couldn’t finish a chunk of expensive meat. I knew to hide uneaten bits under my napkin, because when he was done serving, Charlie hovered around the garbage bins to see what was hot and what was not. “What,” he would snort at blatant wasters. “You didn’t like the veal? Don’t take so much next time.” The flip side was that when Charlie overestimated, he would aggressively market the leftovers. Sometimes he’d show up at our desks mid-afternoon with cookies that had gone unconsumed or smoothies he’d made from leftover fruit. I only avoi[...]
2011-03-05T10:53:50.753-08:00There hasn't been a day since I left Google that I've regretted my decision to retake control of my waking hours and how I spend them. There have been many times, however, that I've thought back fondly to the people with whom I worked and the collegial atmosphere I enjoyed as a Googler. The Google cafe (later known as "Charlie's") was central to that - a gathering place where we shared meals, conversation and laughter.
2011-03-03T07:33:24.634-08:00Another bit of Google video vintage 1999. The space shown here was pretty much the entirety of the company excluding the Annex, the lobby, and the micro-kitchen. Engineering occupied the glass offices with windows and HR, Finance, and Facilities owned the middle space.
2011-02-28T21:05:51.553-08:00Looking at the video of the scrolling queries screen, shown here in its original Googleplex lobby incarnation, brings to mind a story I heard about events that transpired prior to my joining Google in late 1999.
2011-03-03T07:27:52.393-08:00Thought I'd add a couple more clips. There's not much character development, but I've been told the car chase scene is very compelling.
2011-03-03T07:30:13.646-08:00About a week after I started working at Google in November, 1999, I brought my new digital videocamera to the office. Most of the footage includes the people working there at the time, and I want to clear it with them before posting it online. This clip however, just shows the almost empty Googleplex "annex," the overflow space assigned to marketing and business development once the engineers occupied the other half of the floor.
2011-02-26T14:00:08.152-08:00NOTE: I had originally posted this a couple of years ago and then took it down because I thought I might include it in my book "I'm Feeling Lucky" (henceforth abbreviated as IFL). It didn't make the final cut so I'm releasing it again into the wild. -DougThe receptionists at Google always seemed overqualified for the tasks they were given. They smiled and pointed guests to the cooler full of free Naked Juice, explained how the massage chairs in the lobby worked, dialed the extension of the person being called upon and then consoled the visitor for half an hour or so until the Googler in question showed up. One result was that when given the opportunity to express themselves in more intellectually stimulating ways, they did so.I think it was Deb who started emailing notices of lost and found objects in verse. One evening, this message arrived in inboxes across the network:It was all alone, this sweet little phone,And it went by the name of Verizon.Silver and light, respond to its plight!Please retrieve it at Bayshore Reception.In a whiff and flutter, the scarf was a-hover,And lost its way on one googly afternoon.It's chenille, true -- and if this sounds like you,Come retrieve it in the Bayshore Reception room.Wei Hwa, an engineer and four-time winner of the World Puzzle Championship, responded in kind:On a day such as this, one so merely mundane,came a double epistle with a common refrain.Assorted lost items with no one to claim,inspiring lines that'd put Byron to shame.Ranging from sane to the slightly absurd,A motley of rhymes -- nay, a true smorgasbord;The vocals! The echoes! The choice of a word --but I think that the truth is: you're just awfully bored.By the time I saw Wei-Hwa’s note it was after 10PM. As usual, I was logged into Google’s VPN from home, working on some project or other that was launching in the morning. I couldn’t resist sending this message:TIME = -1GET FILE(SYSIN) LIST(NUM):N=0DO CNT=1 TO NUM:GET FILE(SYSIN) LIST(ROW,COL,TIME(ROW,COL));IF COL>N THENN=COL;END;DO ROW=1 TO N;DO COL=ROW TO N;IF TIME(ROW,COL)>=0 THENES(COL)=MAX(ES(COL),ES(ROW)+TIME(ROW,COL));END;END;PUT FILE(SYSPRINT) SKIP EDIT('CRITICAL PATH ACTIVITIES')(A);If engineers get to write poetry, English majors get to write code.Btw, our own esteemed Peter J. Norvig gave me an A- on this assignment when he was a grader for my CS 50 class. Oh, what might have been...Within seconds a dozen Googlers, including our CEO Eric Schmidt, emailed me to critique my code, ask what dust heap I had found it in and apprise me that no living coder on the planet still used this programming language. My favorite response came from Meng, an engineer, who simply noted:Good tight loops,Assignments look fine.Logic flows well,Correct every line.Not too bad,For English major.Sadly, my friend,Bart codes better.Bart was head of our advertising operations group and not particularly known for his coding prowess.The night in question was not extraordinary by Google standards. You could always count on reaching the people you needed when you needed them. And when you did reach them, they usually had pretty interesting things to say.[...]