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 ycombinator.com.
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.
Please tell me what I’m missing.
Update: Bradc found the pref that was set wrong.