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What is it like to work at Google?

Friday, November 2, 2007 by Dave Winer.

Sometime back in the late 80s I was invited to give a talk at Apple, along with John Markoff, who was at the SF Examiner at the time. I think he went first, they received him politely, then I got up and was shocked at the anger I heard back from the people in the room. It scared me, I was totally unprepared for it. Permalink to this paragraph

That was the first time that I experienced the disconnect with what it must feel like to be inside a big, famous, young, successful technology company, and what I thought it must feel like. It's taken a long time for the glamor to wear off for me. As recently as 2004, I thought it would be nice to work inside one of these big companies, believe it or not. Now I see it very differently. Permalink to this paragraph

A picture named comradeLenin.gifThink about what it must have been like to work at Apple in the late 80s. People at the highest level of the company come and go, when they come they get beautiful offices, great benefits, unlimited expense accounts. They're quoted in the press as if they were gods, but you know better. When they show up at meetings they are fools, they have no idea how the products work, they avoid making the decisions you need them to, instead they throw all your cards in the air at will, and do it often. When they leave they get huge bonuses, golden parachutes, and another cushy job at another tech company. Meanwhile your options are worth shit, you haven't gotten a raise in two years, and they just had layoffs, and a bunch of your friends aren't there anymore, and you have to do their jobs too.  Permalink to this paragraph

And then this developer asshole walks in and tells you how you're fucking up. Permalink to this paragraph

Don't get me started about the developers. They hardly do any work, they get quoted in the press all the time as if they're gods, and make millions of dollars, and I do all the work, and I don't get shit and no one cares what I think. Permalink to this paragraph

Okay that was what it was like to be at Apple in the late 80s.  Permalink to this paragraph

I have no idea what it must be like to work at Google today, but I can see some things about it, and guess at why it is that way.  Permalink to this paragraph

First, there's a sense that everyone, if they could, would like to be at Google. The food is good, they pay for almost everything you need in life. It's like a college campus, you get to do interesting stuff, and they take care of all the worries. In another way it's as if you never left your mother's house.  Permalink to this paragraph

For some people, maybe many, just going to work is making them rich. Some of them are being made very rich. Who wouldn't want to be rich. Permalink to this paragraph

Therefore if you don't work at Google it must be because you're not good enough.  Permalink to this paragraph

So one thing they don't have in huge supply at Google is humility.  Permalink to this paragraph

The laws of software apply equally everywhere and the number one law of software, of course is Murphy's Law. And one of the big things it teaches is humility. Look everywhere for possible errors. Be completely paranoid about security holes, infinite loops, databases that crash, and things you may have overlooked Permalink to this paragraph

Yet, this latest episode from Google seems to completely lack humility.  Permalink to this paragraph

Someday someone will write the Microserfs for Google and then the rest of us (who don't work there, and don't want to, and never will) can have some idea of how they got to be this way. Permalink to this paragraph

In the meantime I'm very interested in real human stories of what it's like to be at Google today. Permalink to this paragraph

Update: A thread with some interesting comments about this piece on ycombinator.com.  Permalink to this paragraph

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Last update: 11/2/07; 8:55:25 PM Pacific. "It's even worse than it appears."

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