Revelations from an employee of large IT companies [in Silicon Valley]

Original author: Tyler Cowen
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This email was sent to me by e-mail. I only edited it a little to remove some personal data. The story is long, so I hide it under the cut:


[Earlier] I joined Google as CTO. I believe that this happened after Larry either proposed, or personally tried to fire all project managers, because he considered that only a few of their actions can be considered productive.

At this time, many people upholstered the thresholds of the company. Enough of them, after careful checks and the mandatory passage of "intelligence tests", were able to get inside. The main slogan was: "Hire the smartest people and they themselves will understand what and how to do." As a rule, employees had the right to become a member of any project they were interested in (there was even a database where engineers could easily add their name to any project of interest). In addition, employees were actively encouraged to move to remote offices. Someone (hardly Eric, I think it was Sergey) suggested opening offices wherever there are smart people so that the company could easily clean them for themselves. Almost any idea was considered as a new project, with the exception of those that turned out to be "not ambitious enough." Fed just fine. It is said that recruiters assured people that they could work "on whatever they want." Every 150-200 meters there were micro-kitchens with incredibly tasty treats, and the toilets were like in Japan ... um ... with auto-cleaning and auto-drying.

And ... infrastructure projects and unattractive projects needed someone to start working on them. The file system meetings lasted half a day ... it turned out that many top programmers wholeheartedly dream of writing their own file system. The level of rights due was manifested in what kind of treats were provided and how lively the micro-kitchens were. (Later, a comic situation arose. The management changed the bus schedule so that people could not operate the kitchens and take to themselves [and the family ... I saw it with my own eyes!] Dishes “with me”, and then on the Google bus and take all this food home At the next meeting, someone really complained that the new schedule ... was interfering with taking food “to take away.” And the bus schedule was changed back, even though

Google (I think it was mostly Larry) fearlessly tried everything new. The main motto of the company was that we are so smart that we ourselves can find a new and better way to do something. And it was awesome. I would say that in general this did not live up to expectations ... something happened from time to time, but understanding that working in this company was so fun created an atmosphere where something great could hardly have happened.
Google bathed in money and gladly threw it among employees. Also cool, but not something that can be implemented at all enterprises. The same Amazon adhered to completely different principles. (It is very painful to see stories about what Spartan conditions Amazon supported. For some time I was a manager at the Google’s [xxxx] office and during that time we managed to hire enough Amazon refugees. In general, they were really happy to be on Google ... which is not it has always been to our advantage).

I worked at the company for more than ten years. Over time, the rule "you get what stimulates you" led to the fact that the entire production mechanism slowed down, and the severity of maintaining growth on Wall Street had a truly negative impact (Larry and Sergey, of course, bravely continued to move to another “ big hit. ”)

Returning to the problem

I have some snippy information about Google, Facebook, Apple, and Amazon. I know the people who worked at Netflix, but I know very little about the company itself. I am aware enough about Google. During my life I have worked in many startups and larger companies. The last time I worked at a non-IT company (Ford) was when I was 19 (I was still a student and worked on a team that created early models of on-board computers ... but that's another interesting story).

I think that the main contribution that IT companies make to organizational management is a significant reduction in the power that managers have in solving organizational problems. These companies develop, measure, optimize and debug system problems [as a manager, I work in the same way with the emotional, human problems that arise during the work process], devote all attention to hiring the most talented specialists and very generously distribute material resources *
* Of course, this is possible only with a certain organizational structure.

What's good about google

Google avoided job categories that could reduce responsibility. Google avoided such a category of workers as architects, since such a position gives a person a high status, but at the same time is associated with a low level of accountability, which makes it an excellent opportunity for leading specialists to find a warm place, but at the same time minimize all possible interactions (Company Sun Microsystems is notorious for having extremely many architects).

Google avoided the category of project manager, which would allow the leaders of the engineering group to avoid the dirty part of their work (and stay away from engineering realities). I don’t know the whole history of this particular installation - we had people whose position was called something like “the head of a technical program” - they had to make a significant scientific contribution, and not just keep track of projects.

Google used the “level of abstraction” to prevent its managers from controlling employees or to show an excessive emotional connection with managers.
Hiring committees were created that excluded managers from the hiring process and (mainly ... especially at the beginning) the definition of a design assignment.
The promotion group, which assessed issues related to promotion, removing the promotion authority from the manager (had little weight, as indicated by the link I sent).

Advances were tightly coupled with various algorithms; the increase and bonuses were associated with performance evaluations in such a way that getting a high score (at the current level) led to a greater bonus, and that if an employee’s resume was not ideal for promotion, he did not feel that his income was subject to any penalty. This gave the promotion groups more freedom and the ability to say no by default, and less incentive for managers to aggressively fight for the advancement of their people.

What was not so good

Industry has its own strange relationship with business: product managers can be valuable employees if they have developed business skills, or if they have a flair for something surprising - something that can become the basis for creating a business. Google (and other companies) explicitly regarded product managers as "mini-directors." Therefore, they attracted more people who ... wanted to be a mini-director ... but did not always fit the role of a full-fledged CEO. (At the moment, I have a low opinion of product managers and those who are committed to product management ... with significant exceptions, of course)

Features of Google and the software industry

Many developers want to create free software; many developers know only how to create products for other developers, so they try to conduct business where deep subject knowledge is needed; At the moment there are many competing businesses in the market (where marketing, awareness and a competent business strategy are key indicators). All this leads to an excessive concentration on really knowledgeable programmers, since this almost exclusive hiring goal becomes the main reason that impedes success.
Advertising sales ... I am not a supporter of this engine of commerce. Amazon is known for its power accumulated during ruthless exploitation on the scale of a low-profit industry, where everyone “makes for a dollar, sells for two ...”, which makes this company dangerous for any competitor.

You get what you reward product managers for, which means they aim to launch a product and evade rewarding managers for the size of the group. And Google is no exception - this is the place where it is most difficult to avoid feudal methods with centralization of power.

What has deteriorated over time in Google

Some points that are associated rather with too high cash costs than with technical management, in particular:
  • awareness of the importance of the company's mission in comparison with the perception of everything for granted:
  • pursuit of the company's mission in comparison with individual promotion.
  • the influx of people who are mainly focused on financial benefits.

Some things related to scale that may work better in an organization based on close interpersonal relationships (as opposed to the reduced managerial power described above): some processes are indirectly related to how people know each other or how much one person is above the other ( for example, promotion), as far as he is able to justify a fee for creative, risky work. A significant role is played by the reward for the work of engineers that does not have visible results.

Trivia about other companies

As already stated, I admire Amazon’s strategic approach and its business-first principle. Google did a lot and did well, but it had innumerable expenses and a lot of missed opportunities due to indulgences and an unorganized approach to work. If I choose the real model of an IT company, then I will choose Amazon (despite the fact that I would hardly agree to work there).

Facebookis nothing special. This is a manufacturing company. And personally, I do not think that their product unconditionally attracts universal attention. I think they took advantage of the moment, but over time, they will face the fate of MySpace. I can’t choose the innovations of this product that would amaze me (except the fact that the project was hatched on the college territory and more or less tastefully exploited sex). But their infrastructure is quite crude. That is, hiring a lot of people that will allow them to achieve the necessary scale, in the end, they will face serious problems.

AppleI know a little about this company, but it is definitely out of date. Really outdated. For a while I was in an interview with company representatives, and they told me that they like to set arbitrary deadlines for their projects, because when people are late, they work more intensively. I refused further work, despite the fact that I have no idea whether this approach is some kind of widespread practice or existing practice. What they do means that new business models are more important than new technologies, so real, interesting technological contributions from the company are such things as plans with a fixed data rate or songs at 99 cents. Ever since Steve Jobs died, I have not seen anything like this, but I am not so familiar with this company. Obviously that this is not characteristic of all IT companies. Rather, this approach becomes possible if you already have new inventions.

Microsoft- the embodiment of a large, oppressive software environment, abuse of a dominant market position, decline and subsequent return in a new image. IBM II. I do not know what is special in their corporate culture or current state of affairs. They had their crazy “partnership” system, where big bets were placed on internal competition, which actually looked awful in terms of moral standards and team cohesion. Here I would also not want to work, despite the fact that (as in the case of Amazon) I have several friends who are really happy with the work in this company. In general, there are significant negative environmental consequences associated with significant competition for material compensation. I don’t like this, so such companies are unlikely to attract such

Netflix Little information about them. A successful startup that has slightly changed the initial line of business, but I don’t know if this is good or bad.

Amazon is an absolutely superb, truly intimidating, efficient and extremely business oriented company. The change in capital investment in operating costs through the Cloud is one of those business changes that I saw at Apple, along with “selling close to value using stock market money so that no one can compete with you as you cut prices through increase of own scale, and because of this no one can afford to enter the market. ” They also tend to throw foods that don't work. Apparently, working here is hard.

The problems that I see in other sectors: poor imagination, someone controlled territory or area of ​​interest / politics, inefficiency, communication problems ... all can benefit from investments in technical companies. If your business brings low income ... then it will be even more difficult for you, since low income does not give you the opportunity to attract and retain leading talents who are usually interested in the money component. But undoubtedly, best practices are useful for business, along with awareness of the importance of such things as a business model, system design in business, communication and culture, attitudes to power, politics and motivation.

Remaining challenges in the technology industry: scale-up and incentives (and scale incentives :). I also see significant bias against extroverts, which sounds ridiculous for the tech industry. But, I repeat, product managers (or, God forbid, sales specialists) are planning and solving problems in the spirit of "let's bring more people to life." I firmly believe that tremendous labor productivity is recklessly wasted by people who choose the wrong communication setup. I think that often they are chosen based on convenience or for the benefit of someone who is either in the role of an extrovert or is prone to extraversion. This is a huge problem at Google, which, given their structure, is pretty ironic. Amazon has some thoughts on how to avoid such moments (for example, “reading time”),

I thank the author for taking the time to address this issue. Of course, I only publish material and do not vouch for the veracity of all the information provided.

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