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Monday, November 5, 2007

Opinions On Working At Google, Now vs Then

Apathy at YCombinator in a discussion of a post by Dave Winer – who said “one thing they don’t have in huge supply at Google is humility” – writes (this is just Apathy’s opinion of course, and I don’t know the identity of this person):

I worked at Google for a while, pre-IPO. There were an awful lot of very smart, capable people (or so it seemed, out of the 200 or so that were there when I arrived), and the challenges in operations simply do not exist at any other company I have seen (you try administering 100K servers, expanding by about another 1000-2000 per week, using typical methods, and let me know how it goes, for example (...) ). The hardware engineering produced numerous clever patents, the software engineers produced stuff like MapReduce, and despite the North Korean Labor Camp work ethos, people were generally pretty happy.

I have no idea if it’s like that anymore. A lot of my friends who stuck around after the IPO report that it changed, that there arose much friction between the perceived old guard and the newer post-IPO employees

Apathy, using what seems to be Google-internal lingo, adds that “[m]aybe the SarbOx role-based access control (which I helped implement as part of my job) means that you can’t poke around MOMA and the Perforce tree after work hours and gawk at the new patents.” (MOMA is the name of Google’s intranet.) A user by the name of NeilK replies (my emphasis in bold):

I’m not sure what to tell you about Google today versus then. Yes, you will be a cog, but in one of the shiniest and most well-maintained machines ever. There’s a non-negligible chance of doing a significant 20% project.

The one thing you’ll notice is how much stricter the standards are for testing and code quality generally, while the codebase has expanded exponentially. Sometimes this results in code that’s so great it practically makes you weep. Other times, especially for the really old projects, it becomes a morass of incomprehensibility but whose quality is carefully husbanded. I knew of a guy who spent weeks getting one change into the basic webserving code, because running all the tests took an entire day, and by the time he was done, other people had committed new changes that broke his change. (...)

Maybe you can answer me one thing: in the early days, did people think they were a moral force for good in the world? As Dave Winer correctly notes, one of the amazing/insufferable things about Google is that many engineers there really think this – especially the pre-IPO crowd. It’s the sort of attitude that enables them to open for business in totalitarian China, because how could you deny the Chinese the wonderfulness of Google?

[Thanks Ian! Thanks S. for the image.]


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