Sunday, May 18, 2008
Working at Google - Can They Keep It Up?
I'm going to preface this by saying that my time at Google was awesome. It was definitely the one place I've worked where I knew that everyone just "got it". You were respected no matter who you were talking to, your VP, the founders, old employees, new employees, it didn't matter. You were given the ability to be creative, to impact decisions and direction. I'd never before experienced that.
Fast forward a few years. I keep in touch with quite a few of my ex-co-workers at Google and know quite a few new ones. I venture down there about once a week to grab lunch. And though it's usually to catch-up, it's also to take advantage of the free lunch. I mean, it's almost as good as going home to mom and having her cook me a meal. That's how good it is.
Anyway, I've noticed quite a few things that have changed over the years. It's inevitable that it happens. Some are small but some have had a big impact. To start small - the snack rooms have been scaled back. When I was there, they were chock full of everything you could imagine. Tons of drink choices, tons of snacks (chips, candy, fruits, nuts), and a sweet coffee/hot chocolate bar. It was seriously like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. A total dream. Sure there are still snacks... but just a shadow of what it once was. The drinks? Yea, they've been cut back too.
How about thosee scooters I used to race around campus on? Gone. Or at least mostly gone. Sure there are still a few around, but they're not maintained.
But one piece that's really changed where it actually impacts the work environment are the sheer number of employees. I think Google worldwide is around 19,000 employees. When I left it was about 7,000 maybe. December that year (2006) it was like 11,000.
What do the numbers of employees mean? It means a few things. It means Google isn't a tiny shop anymore which leads to this:
1) People are leaving for the next big thing (here). And some people think that next big thing is Facebook (I don't - and I'm happy to write a post about it later).
2) There has been a need to bureaucratize somewhat. Google has always been known as a flat organization (not many managers, VP's and stuff to micro-manage you). That's changing and that's putting into place more red tape.
3) It's now easy to get lost in the shuffle. It's hearsay, but from the whisperings I've heard, there are some employees that just don't have enough to do - and that can make for frustrated employees. I remember right before I left the Gap, I was often sitting around twiddling my thumbs. I'd complain - because I was wasting my time and the Gap's time. But nothing was done. And it became mind-bogglingly frustrating.
4) There are still employees that are as busy as ever, but there's less payoff these days. Your good deeds are now getting less noticed than they used to. And now managers are spending more time managing people as opposed to innovating. This too has begun to frustrate employees.
I don't know if there's any way around this as your company grows large. I think Google did a great job of holding it off for a while. But there's probably some point where a company begins to lose control over their growth. And maybe Google has reached or is nearing that point. I'm sure they're going to be fine... they hire unbelievably well. But things definitely don't seem like they used to.