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Monday, May 12, 2008

Bureaucratic Google?

Adam Lashinsky of CNN/ Fortune posted an interesting piece on Google’s brain drain – more and more employees leaving to create their own, less bureaucratic and thus more agile start-ups – and Google’s present and future challenges. Like balancing and moderating the needs of various teams, as well as trying to consolidate different product efforts. From the article:

At Google, what you often end up with instead of resource allocation is a laissez-faire mess. Take, for example, the hassles Dave Girouard had to face. Girouard is vice president in charge of Google Apps, the company’s fledgling initiative to sell Web-based software applications to businesses. He wanted some alterations to Gmail to make the e-mail product more appealing to his corporate customers. To do that, he needed to lobby Gmail engineers, who don’t work for him. He likens his efforts to a Peace Corps mission: all heart but little power to enforce his will.

Also, the article quotes Google’s Eric Schmidt paraphrasing the Google founders: “We took huge risks when we had no cash. Now we have all of this cash and we take few risks.” Adam writes that companies inevitably change “as they grow and age. They lose their coolness, they bureaucratize.”

[Via Paul Buchheit at Friendfeed.]

Update: Ionut posts what he calls a counter-argument, from the New York Times from December 2007;

Early this month, Google released new cellphone software, with the code-name Grand Prix. A project that took just six weeks to complete, Grand Prix allows for fast and easy access to Google services like search, Gmail and calendars through a stripped-down mobile phone browser. (For now, it is tailored for iPhone browsers, but the plan is to make it work on other mobile browsers as well.)

Grand Prix was born when a Google engineer, tinkering on his own one weekend, came up with prototype code and e-mailed it to Vic Gundotra, a Google executive who oversees mobile products. Mr. Gundotra then showed the prototype to Mr. Schmidt, who in turn mentioned it to Mr. Brin. In about an hour, Mr. Brin came to look at the prototype.

[Thanks Ionut!]

Update 2: On a related note, Paul Buchheit, former Google employee and now at Friendfeed, in an interview with Newsvine in February this year states:

I just really enjoy creating new things and releasing new products, and the reality of a big company is that over time there are just more and more roadblocks between you and just releasing something. On FriendFeed we might come up with a funny idea and just do it and release it and that can all happen within a matter of minutes, literally. We say, “Hey, this would be cool. I’ll write the code and release it and it’s live.”

With big companies, you’re like, “Hey, this would be a great idea,” and then there are approvals you have to get, and then this big long pipeline to launch, and it would take months and months. And then you think it’s not even worth it. You don’t even bother. That extra cost of getting anything done just causes you to not even bother sometimes, especially with things that are obviously not that important but might be kind of fun ideas or interesting. It is really an issue of opportunity costs, because you don’t really know about all the great things that didn’t happen, you only know about the things that did happen. So, when you create processes that slow things down, you never really realize how high the costs of those processes are.

[Via Mitchell Tsai at Friendfeed.]

Update 3: Google’s Adam Lasnik comments:

- I can only think of two people (and zero engineers) from my immediate team who’ve left Google in the two+ years I’ve been here. (...)

- I have not personally found bureaucracy to really hinder my ability to get things done here. For example, I recently spearheaded a webmaster online chat with hundreds of attendees, and while it took a LOT of time to organize, it was all “How can we make this a great chat?” and not “How do we do a purchase order for Webex, get signoff on the main presentation and get four managers’ permissions?” and so on?

- It seems that people are forgetting that we have 18,000+ employees. I think the HR folks would bonk me on the head if I gave specific attrition rates, but we’re talking *small*. If you look at the engineering attrition rate, IMHO you’re talking *really small*..

* * *

Do people face frustrations here?
Is the company getting bigger and is some bureaucracy creeping in?
Do some engineers miss the “small company feel” and thus leave?

Yes, yes, yes. But I wish more folks would put it all in perspective.

[Thanks Adam!]


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