The Declarer (Floyd McWilliams' Blog)

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Via "The Unofficial Google Weblog" I found this Business Week Online article profiling Marissa Mayer, director of consumer web products at Google. Ben Elgin's interview with Mayer, and fly-on-the-wall observation of her at work, were both interesting. But the article contained some rather false notes about the culture of Google:

Office hours are just one way in which Mayer connects with inventive engineers and managers. Another is Google's ideas mailing list, the e-mail thread to which anyone can submit or comment on an idea. At times, the thread more resembles a form of techie Darwinism. Google newcomers who proffer an especially obvious suggestion ("Why don't we search blogs?"), or something off-topic like how to arrange the cafeteria tables, often suffer withering rebukes.

Well ... ideas can receive low ratings, and people do criticize them on their technical merits. But "withering rebukes" is hardly what happens to poorly thought out submissions. If some hapless employee does suggest an idea which has already been suggested, another Googler in the know will post a link to an earlier idea or project in progress. That's it. No one says "Jane, you ignorant slut!"

It's all part of a culture not for the faint of heart. Google oozes with what one ex-employee calls "geek machismo." Intellectual sparring can get heated. In the cafeteria, "food gets thrown," says the former employee.

There's a lot of geek culture at Google, like the guy who changed his portrait on the employee directory to the cover of the original AD&D Monster Manual. (If anyone turned a greener shade of envy than me, I feel sorry for them.) But machismo implies a swaggering desire to put others down, and there just isn't much of that where I work. I've been at places where design meetings were two-hour long pissing matches between over-egoed engineers who cared more about getting their way than accomplishing any work. One of the things I really like about Google is the total absence of such idiocy. Engineers are generally mellow and well-behaved. They respect each other.

As for the "food getting thrown," maybe it happened once as a joke. But Googlers do not get into fights in the cafeteria. In the first place, the food is too good to waste. And the chef who worked for Google until recently had firm ideas about what was proper in his environs; anyone who threw food would have gotten their balls cut off.



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