Scripting News for 11/2/07

What is it like to work at Google? 

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.

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.

Think 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.

And then this developer asshole walks in and tells you how you’re fucking up.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

Therefore if you don’t work at Google it must be because you’re not good enough.

So one thing they don’t have in huge supply at Google is humility.

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

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

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.

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

Update: A thread with some interesting comments about this piece on

Netflix is driving me crazy! 

I don’t have an HD-DVD player.

(Actually I do but it never works.)

So when I order a movie from Netflix, I don’t want the HD-DVD format, I want the DVD format.

They actually tell you what formats each movie is available in, but I can’t find a way to tell it I want the regular DVD, not the HD one, so guess what, I always end up with the HD one.


Here’s a screen shot.

Please tell me what I’m missing.

TIA. 🙂

Update: Bradc found the pref that was set wrong.

12 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by solo500 on November 2, 2007 at 8:20 am

    This entry, with Bullshit Detector set on “stun” is why I continue to read Scripting News.

    At the very least, anytime anyone is being “quoted by the press as if they were gods” it is good practice to remember that they are “fallible, fucked up humans” (in the immortal phrase of Dr. Albert Ellis).

    Nice work, Dave.


  2. Once again you nailed it, Dave. I have a very close friend who went to work for Google with very high hopes and quit after 36 hours. I offered to write it up with the headline, “Google’s Shortest Employee Ever!” It would’ve echoed a lot of what you said here, but alas, the friend did not want to go public. It seems your observations, as usual, reflect an indeterminate but sizeable constituency.


  3. Have you seen Aaron Swartz’s The Goog Life?


  4. You really hit the nail on the head about working for big companies. Certainly from my experience.

    I spent years of my life wanting to work for this big company, then when I finally did something cool, which they wanted, I had their attention and they employed me.

    I was SO excited to be in this bastion of production and technology where I though everyone there must be SO smart.

    Then I slowly (and sometimes painfully) found out that so many of the decision makers were totally clueless.

    I once had a big argument about with one of the key decision makers at this Bloody Big Company about publishing podcasts. I walked out.

    A very similar thing happened when I suggested the concept of publishing RSS feeds to them. They were dead against it at the time. Those feeds are now the absolute winner in generating hits to their site to read the ‘full story’.

    After having enough of dealing with the ‘deaf ears of dumb incompents’ I decided to leave 😉

    Life is a lot better these days. Less stressful (mostly). Though I do see slow changes happening (for the better) back at the Big Co. 🙂

    I too look forward to reading “Googlers”.

    I hope Douglas Coupland writes it 🙂


  5. lol. typo: “incompetents” ;p


  6. someone sms’d me walmart has $98 hd DVD players…


  7. Funny, I do kind of feel like it would be fun to be at Google. Work on lots of cool, different projects.

    Grass is always greener.

    And eventually, probably sooner than people realize, Google is going to jump the shark.


  8. Any company devoted to “nurturing” technology for the sake of advertising is not that cool to me. We don’t need to go into any other “fine details”—the bottom line is “do no evil”—for advertising…

    Without regard to my technical skills or “level” of intelligence, the aesthetics of advertising is displeasing and my “limited” imagination sees no improvement for this ‘spiritual’ form violence for centuries to come…


  9. sometimes reading you is like a religious experience; kinda like the perfect golf swing followed by the crack, and 300 yeard drive…and you wonder…”how in the fuck did i do that?”


  10. Dave,

    I work at Google. Before Google I was a startup kind of chap and I never thought that I would be a big company guy. I do NOT think that “if you don’t work at Google you aren’t good enough” and do not think that most of the people at Google feel that way either. I think that you are making a ton of assumptions 🙂

    I used to be on the outside like you, and had generalizations. Some have proved to be correct, and some have been totally wrong.

    There are many things about Google’s hiring process that I despise, and things about Google that I do not like. Google is just a company. It has good and bad things. It happens to have a lot of great things going for it. I would love to chat with you more about the good and bad the next time we meet in Petes coffee 🙂




  11. Posted by Stu on November 2, 2007 at 6:45 pm

    Bryan, the words of a truly wise man. i don my cap.

    Which of course is no real complement at all…..


  12. Posted by Danny on November 3, 2007 at 12:59 pm

    Nice piece, Dave.

    WRT the update pointing to the thread on YC, I find it fascinating that readers are commenting both here on the originating site and elsewhere on a external news site. And, it makes me realize that this likely happens all the time given the thought that YC News isn’t the only “external news site” that simply provides links and reader comments to other writers’ works (e.g., Reddit immediately comes to mind although it doesn’t seem that this current piece is linked there).

    So, it strikes me, I think it would be fantastic if there were some way to list all comments from all sites in a single place. In other words, a single, aggregated comment feed that contains reader input to the originating piece with branches to reader input posted to all links to the original piece? Does this already exist? If not, it should.



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