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Google Doesn’t Want Staff Debating Politics at Work Anymore (bloomberg.com)
731 points by mancerayder 30 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 1040 comments



I worked at Google for quite a while, 2005-2013, and even then, the internal political discussion was pretty toxic, but a lot smaller in scope since there are far fewer people.

There were definitely groups meant for discussing politics, and loudmouths like me willingly participated in those - however, it was very uncivil. There was a majority view in the company, and if anyone didn't agree with the majority view, the majority engaged in heckling, ridicule, etc. It was already becoming an echo chamber, and as the majority grew, their tactics grew more petty and vicious. However, this was expected in the politics groups, and you knowingly entered that fray.

What seems to be happening a lot lately is that politics are spilling over into large, global mailing lists which target a whole geographic region, so many people get involved, and when a company has 200k employees and contractors, you will find some outliers in there who will pick nasty fights.

It only makes sense that they're cutting down on something that has turned toxic. It's a bit disappointing to hear, since I personally enjoyed the occasional, honest discussion with smart people of other viewpoints - these good discussions made the much larger number of ridiculous ones, bearable.


I worked there for a similar length of time, but more recent (2012 - early 2019). The internal political discourse over that time definitely mirrored the rest of the world: becoming increasingly heated and divisive during 2016 and largely escalating since.

On the whole, it felt like it pushed the company in a positive direction --- internal discussions mirroring #metoo led to more visibility of sexual harassment and accountability for leadership. The discourse around the James Damore memo, as divisive as it was, felt like it still led to a broader understanding of the negative perspectives women in tech had to deal with constantly.

Most importantly (IMO), Google's product choices and politics are not inseparable --- Google is far too large and influential to pretend otherwise, and discussing these topics acted as a watchdog of sorts. Internal discussions about a potential censored search engine product in China resulted in pressure on leadership to change course, and pressure on Cloud bidding on the JEDI contract led to Google withdrawing from that bid.

Shutting off that political discourse feels like it'd be a huge blow to "oversight" from concerned Googlers --- particularly the ones who felt it was worth staying and using their influence internally to push Google toward creating a more just world.


Disclaimer: my comment below is directed at the culture of Google, and following in the train of thought from your comment. It's not directed at your comment or you.

Reading this comment just makes me feel baffled. How much arrogance does it take for a bunch of Googlers to assume the belief that they know what is "just" for the rest of the world?

An organization(in this case, a for-profit company) created to deliver products and services to consumers and advertisers playing politics on the world stage is laughable at best, and downright irresponsible at worst. There's no framework established within the confines of a corporation to deal with any of these sorts of social problems, and it shouldn't.

Play the right part, do the right job, and let others with the right skills and tools do the same.


> An organization(in this case, a for-profit company) created to deliver products and services to consumers and advertisers playing politics on the world stage is laughable at best, and downright irresponsible at worst.

Google is one of the largest technology corporations in existence, controlling the flow of information for huge swaths of the world's population. They have no choice but to "play politics" as many of the decisions they make can have tremendous impact on global policy and society.

> Play the right part, do the right job, and let others with the right skills and tools do the same.

No. More and more, technology firms and the individuals within them are realizing their own responsibility to consider the ethical implications of the systems they are building.


Private corporations acting in quasi-government ways is risky at best and terrifying at worst. While some of the checks & balances in civil+legal society have been broken, many are still there and there are repercussions when they're broken.

A corporation doesn't have the same mechanisms - public rules (aka laws), processes, appeals, accountability, etc, etc - built in and there's limited recourse when their definition of "right" and others' conflicts.

Frankly, it's begging for regulation.. and that's not even considering the potential monopoly angle.


What do you mean by they have no choice? Societies have different views and values, and the most intransient of these tend to be reflected in their laws. Companies can offer their product while avoiding politics by simply obeying the laws of a nation. For instance online pornography is a political topic yet the answer is clearly determined by nations: very illegal in Saudi Arabia, kind of legal in the UK, completely legal in the US. Companies can respect cultural views and values by simply gearing their behavior to obey the laws of the nations in which they operate. Since some people would prefer to avoid seeing pornographic results regardless of laws companies can offer an option to remove such results - which is exactly what they do. Nice, simple, no involvement in politics except perhaps determining whether 'adult results' should be opt-in or opt-out.

The last 'people' you want involved in politics are mega-corporations because they are one of the few groups that actually have the power to manipulate elections, corrupt politicians, and generally break democracies. In my opinion it's likely that the world will gradually 'progress' towards worldwide overt corporatocracy, but there's no reason we should embrace this in any way shape or form on the way there. If nothing else your post is a strong argument for why companies such as Google should be broken down. But, getting back to the original point, I think it's possible if not likely that that's already impossible -- thanks to their involvement in politics and the influence it has undoubtedly gained them.


They have no choice because it has political ramifications when they sneeze.


"No. More and more, technology firms and the individuals within them are realizing their own responsibility to consider the ethical implications of the systems they are building."

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?


Translation: Who watches the watchmen


Should people act in ways that disagree with their sense of justice?

Should people be allowed to speak out against things that other people do, but that disagree with their sense of justice?

I don't see how you can call it "arrogant" for people to act in accordance with their moral and ethical standards. We don't have the power to force the world do line up with our personal sense of justice. But we do have the power to make our lives and the lives of those around us more just, according to our own personal interpretation of that concept. Do you really think that striving for justice isn't OK?


Let me clarify:

- A non-decision by Google management to not place limits on its internal culture is a decision in itself, and has consequences that we are currently experiencing.

- "Justice" is not something for a profit-seeking company to have influence or power over. This is my personal belief. I believe there are other channels that are better designed to address those issues.

- My belief on this subject is limited to the above.


> "Justice" is not something for a profit-seeking company to have influence or power over.

But since they do in reality, especially if they are profitable and thereby gain power, it seems like something that should be discussed.

It would be great if they actually didn't have influence or power over justice, definitely, but they do.


If you take a look inside the United States for a moment, you’ll realize we actually have a fairly hard division between civil, criminal, and political disputes.

Civil justice concerns two private parties, typically adjudicated by a Judge and Jury when they cannot reach an agreement.

Criminal justice concerns the State, represented by the Attorney-General or someone who works for him, and someone found to be in criminal violation of the laws of the State. They murdered, raped and/or defrauded someone, or something like that. The State takes a special interest because they have a monopoly on violence to enforce, and no one wants people taking Justice into their own hands. It would violate the social contract.

Political justice is typically subjective, an example of political justice would be Congress impeaching and removing a President or other official from Office.

What form of Justice are corporations specifically found to have disproportionate influence over? Certainly they might influence some laws and regulations around the governing of their business practices, but not all laws are concerned with Justice.

Justice is the domain of legislatures, Attorneys-General, police officers, juries, lawyers, prosecutors, public defenders, and so on. Justice is the domain of people that have the power to detain, arrest, try, pass judgement, imprison and kill you.

You take it as a given that they have this power and influence, but let’s say they do. Why would we formalize that state of affairs implicitly or explicitly? Their job is to be profitable, it is not to act in any meaningful capacity on Justice.


Why should a bunch of tech workers be administering justice? We've elected government officials to handle that.


"Freedom is a verb", "citizenship", whichever of the many versions of the objection to that idea are all available.

We elected officials to administrate it only, these ideals are done by everyone.


>We elected officials to administrate it only, these ideals are done by everyone.

That's mob rule / vigilantism.


Justice is a much larger category of things than "using violence to control anti-social behaviour" as in policing/criminal law/etc.


They don’t.


The solution to that problem is a new government.

Not to give Google corporate Sovereignty to replace it.


I think the problem is that the US has developed for various reasons (including a lack of discussing politics) a series of echo chambers and people don't connect politically beyond their echo chambers. In urban California, among software developers, you are likely to have one or two political views represented at most, and these represent a small racial and class-based cross-section of urban California. The first of course is the Neoliberal views of the Rainbow Capitalism camp that brought us Hillary Clinton's candidacy. If there is a second view it is the Business Liberalism view of the elite GOP members such as the Koch brothers.

You aren't going to get the political concerns of rust-belt America, or the political concerns of black families down in Watts recognized, nor will you get the communitarianism of rural America in there either.

And so that sense of justice gets warped, even regarding national issues of the US today.

What happens when these things go world wide? Someone's sense of justice gets offended by economic orders where procreative/childrearing families hold businesses which are inherited and passed on to kids, and where there are solid gender roles associated (my kids' second culture for example)? I guess we better do what we can to make the world safe for American Capitalism to come in and liberate people from family expectations. But that means opening up such cultures to economic exploitation by foreign business and that harm is waved away as if it doesn't matter.

The arrogance does matter, because the arrogance can easily lead to outright economic colonialism ("for their own good" as much now as a century ago). The way to hold it in check is for other viewpoints to actually be entertained and discussed.


> In urban California, among software developers, you are likely to have one or two political views represented at most, and these represent a small racial and class-based cross-section of urban California.

I would argue that these are the only ones allowed.


In what sense allowed?


I used to hang out in predominantly Californian tech circles, and the atmosphere there was... not at all respectful of places that aren't California.

It would have been a good career move for me to suck up to them. Some of them were serial founders who hired their friends, and others could've given useful referrals.

But that'd come at the cost of being constantly insulted, hearing my family constantly insulted, and so on, and not being able to say anything in defense. I'm not interested in being around people who think everyone who isn't exactly like them is subhuman - even if cutting contact with them is a bad career move.

Then again, that might be why they do that.


When I was in the US I used to have a big client in LA. When I would visit I would hang out with various immigrants when not working. There was a lovely Iranian family that owned a restaurant in the area of my client's office and we became friends.

I developed a very strong appreciation for how stratified California social class was on issues like public transportation.

Come to think of it I have been wondering why Sweden can have a really nice public transit system covering the entire country and California with less land, more people, and more tax dollars cannot. I bet that stratification is the answer.


In the sense that if you are in public with "wrong" views, you'd be shunned socially and professionally, your peers would avoid you or shame you, you may be attacked (verbally and sometimes physically) by unhinged activists, your career development may stall, you may be excluded from professional conferences, groups and projects, your employment may be threatened and in general the overall costs of maintaining such an opinion would be much higher than the "correct" one that "everyone agrees".

I am not saying this is the situation everywhere. Not at all. But it is the situation in some places, and Google seems to be one of such places.


Allowed by the echo chambers


> In urban California, among software developers, you are likely to have one or two political views represented at most

Centrist neoliberals, progressives, libertarians, and “I need active government support because private parties are not actively supporting me” anti-SJW meninists, among other political cliques, all seem to be vocally present in significant numbers among urban California developers.

I'm not sure which “one or two” viewpoints you were referring to.


Fair enough but it still does not reach a fair cross-section of society.


But is it fairer or less fair than the cross section of society represented by executives and board members who would be policy making if employees did nothing and just followed instructions?


That is a point. It would be better though is we recognized Google as something of a common carrier and insisted that they do not try to be the arbiter of what is true.


Libertarians are rare and far between (if you don't consider somebody who likes to smoke a joint and not be busted and hates paying taxes a "libertarian", but talk about serious libertarian views), the right is almost non-existent publicly. Of course you can split hairs and find different left viewpoints represented - after all, we have how many Democrat candidates now, twenty? More? They must have some viewpoint differences between them. These probably are represented in hitech too. But is you look for broader political diversity... not the right place to look, from my experience.


Any citations for “Business Liberalism view of the elite GOP members such as the Koch brothers”? Unable to confirm this term


https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctvc77gn1 for starters.

If we understand Liberalism to be a social philosophy tradition starting with Hobbes, being further developed in various forms through Locke, Rousseau, Adam Smith, Edmund Burke, John Rawls, etc. and seeking the liberation of the individual from culture, community, and family then for various the social Liberalism of the democrats (which seeks particularly to liberate people sexually from community judgments and rules) is closely connected to the efforts by the GOP to do the same for people in the business area. They are based on a common view of what it means to be human, a particular view of what freedom is, and so forth.

These assumptions are not really so fundamentally shared outside North America. So in both Sweden and Denmark, society looks a lot more like it did structurally to Aristotle than to Hobbes -- strong family households joining together in local communities to address common issues. Those local communities joining together into larger and larger units to address common needs until you have the overall kingdom. These places are less individualist and more localist.

Growing up in small towns in the US, I can also tell you that this Business Liberalism is most heavily a force politically in the urban centers of the GOP. Rural politicians don't tend to push it in the same way.


1) I would not include Rousseau among the fathers, but among the enemies of Liberalism.

2) I think the discourse in the USA has been heavily tilted in favour of libertarianism (maybe what you call "Business Liberalism") by concerted subversive effort sponsored by Koch, Mercer, etc., as outlined eg in the book Dark Money by Jane Mayer.


Rousseau certainly had an interesting relationship to the rise of Liberalism. And I am often unsure of whether to count him among the developers or enemies of the movement. I can read him both ways.

Your second point is I think correct on part of the problem but I think there is a second deeper issue which goes beyond dark money per se and implicates everyone. That is the fact that family and community are support structures which each of us rely on during hard times. If you come from a wealthy family and you really screw up repeatedly you will still probably do better than if you come from a poor family and do everything perfectly. But the family support structures have been under constant and sustained attacks on a number of means on the idea that if we undermine the family we will, for example, liberate women from inequality (in truth, it only increases gender inequality because motherhood has heavier burdens as single motherhood). Undermining the family, however, creates larger markets for a lot of things. A larger number of smaller households consume more. So business steps in to fill the role, as does the state. Moreover if you liberate business from the state and from community, then the first thing it will attack is the family and the reproductive order because it isn't very efficient for employees to have and raise kids (better to import kids after they grow up).

So I actually see the sexual liberalism of the progressive left and the business liberalism of the Koch brothers as mutually reinforcing, as politically heretical as that might be in the context of US political discussions.


Parent's probably referring to Koch-style libertarianism.

I'm not super familiar with the nuances of their worldview, but it's definitely more business / enterprise-centric than non-Koch libertarianism.


>> Do you really think that striving for justice isn't OK?

The problem is that one person's justice is another person's genocide. I'm exaggerating, but not by much.

Consider the typical political discussion around Israel and Palestine. Both sides feel they are on the verge of being wiped out, with or without merit. Both sides feel they can do anything and everything to avoid that presumed outcome.

"Striving for justice" means very different things to both sides. To a Palestinian mother who has seen, say, two toddlers shot to death, justice might mean killing the offender, a soldier. To an Israeli mother of the soldier, justice might mean killing the Palestinian mother before she kills the soldier (her son.)

Details will vary, but suffice it to say, no view of this is pretty.

You dont want to talk about that stuff in the office, because there is not going to be any just solution.


> You dont want to talk about that stuff in the office, because there is not going to be any just solution.

There are going to be asshats in the office that can't handle being wrong or the fact that not everyone is sharing their views. Political discussions aren't toxic - immature people who can't handle disagreement are.

It is not great that we are letting those people ruin the workplace for the rest of us. I'm pretty sure that's one of the main drivers behind the alt-right movement. People aren't discussing and sharing views because doing so is taboo and they risk losing their jobs. Instead, people just sit at home and read wildly spun news stories which they soak up because their critical thinking ability has been impaired due to lack of training.


Utter nonsense - the lack of politcal discourse at work does not result in worse politics generally.

Politics at work has long been a no no at most companies and there's no evidence to show this has caused the rise of any extremism.

Work is where you get your work done. There is no room for you opinions on Trump etc, whether positive or negative. Your political views can very easily marginalise others especially when you hold a majority view.

You're asking why people that can't handle politics at work are 'ruining it for the rest of us'. May I turn the question around and why people that want to discuss politics at work are ruining it for the rest of us that don't?


Lack of respectful political discourse in general results in worse politics.

It should be possible to talk (and disagree) about politics without it affecting work cooperation. I'm not sure whether the fact that it's not, is a cause or a symptom of the current political climate.


I don't think that's true at all. The best teams I've ever worked on had zero political discourse.


Are you saying you wouldn't be able to work with someone you disagreed with politically if you were aware if the disagreement?


No, I am not saying that. This is exactly what politcal people at work do - they are so high on their own opinions that they start to plant opinions in other peoples mouths if they don't agree with you, you just did that to me.

I very very rarely engage in any politics talk at work unless I'm totally cornered. I couldn't care less what you think about anything beyond the scope of our work. Chances are, your opinions are nauseating. I will be polite but I won't engage.

I rarely see any political type at work that doesn't somehow create drama. Your politics and your religion are of no interest to me. No I won't join your womens march, no I don't believe in equal pay (regardless of gender etc) and yes I'm a liberal / labour voter that favours unions. These are all distractions to what I am here to do though.

Maybe it's a cultural thing, me and my work friends never discussed politics, maybe that's just the apathy of my generation? Don't know, don't care. Politics is not for work. It's divise and the people pushing their political opinions are usally toxic and they don't even know it.


My apologies, I didn't mean to put words in your mouth.


Impaired critical thinking ability leads to shitty politics. Impaired critical thinking ability is caused by people's lack of experience which is caused by political arguments being seen as taboo. You become fat if you never exercise and you become dumb if you never think critically.

Work is where we spend a major part of our lives 8-9 hours per day five days per week. The idea that freedom of speech should be suspended for the duration is dumb. People aren't automatons and shouldn't be treated as such. It leads to the bizarre situation that you neither care for nor have anything in common with the people you spend the majority of your time with. The most interesting conversations you have is "I see it is raining outside." "Yes, it is raining." because people are so afraid of breaking the workplace decorum.


I respectfuly disagree with most of your points.

Being respectful of other people not being interested in your BS opinions is not stopping your freedom of speech. You're at work to get work done, not to espouse your opinions on the middle east.

Politics isn't the only way to keep your critical thining sharp. We're knowledge workers after all.


It seems clear alt-right is being deliberately made to look bigger than it is. Same various “extreme leftists”.

I fear you’re making a grave mistake by thinking the volume level is correlated with actual humans.


> Should people act in ways that disagree with their sense of justice?

Yes absolutely; because that is a what a True professional does when their job requires it.


>according to our own personal interpretation

That's incredibly problematic


> How much arrogance does it take for a bunch of Googlers to assume the belief that they know what is "just" for the rest of the world?

That of a regular human being with rationalized opinions through the lens available to them? For some reason only because Google has a lot of power to control the dialogue you ask them to bury their head in the sand? Or are we going to pretend that there hasn't been an arms race of sorts to game search results across nearly every topic and as such one might consider removal of what one considers to either be harmful, false, or manipulative to be a part of doing the "right" job?

What's the quote again, " The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing " -- Edmund Burke

And as far as Google goes, I think it would be easy to rationalize that (if I was a Google member) I have access to better tools than most to make a decision (more information).


Let me clarify:

- A non-decision by Google management to not place limits on its internal culture is a decision in itself, and has consequences that we are currently experiencing.

- "Justice" is not something for a profit-seeking company to have influence or power over. This is my personal belief. I believe there are other channels that are better designed to address those issues.

- My belief on this subject is limited to the above.


All opinions can be rationalized through a particular lens can they not?

Are you asking Google to be a voice of reason in the debate over global labor markets and liberalization of SE Asian economies for example?

Doesn't that give you a wolf-and-lamb problem, to reference Aesop?


Everybody thinks they have better tools than everybody else to know what's right and what's wrong. In most cases, they are mistaken. The cost of being mistaken for a company that has power to control significant amount of information available to humanity is enormous. That's why in the US there are direct prohibitions on government suppressing points of view. You could think - why should there be one? Of course, if the government would suppress normal people, like you and me, it would be bad. But why not bad people? Why don't we elect a very good government, an excellent one, with the best tools and information we have, and then let it do whatever it wants, no limits? Except we know it won't work. The power corrupts, and what we'd get would be the worst tyranny, regardless of how pure were the initial intentions. Why would we delude themselves into thinking if we call it "Google" and replace elections with technical interview it would go any better?


> I have access to better tools than most to make a decision (more information).

That does Not mean that Your Opinion would be a correct one--actually the opposite could just as easily be true.


Agree.

In the US, we have government to take these things on. We have rule of law. And rights. Both government and individuals are subject to these.

With Google, there is no rule of law or rights. Goggle does not have a constitution. If you have a problem with them, what can you do? Nothing.

There is no right to question your accuser. There is no right to protect agains unreasonable search/seizure. There is no right to free speech. No right to privacy. And so on. There is only what Google arbitrarily decides to do. And if you're not in the majority as Google defines it, then it just sucks to be you.

This is why unregulated monopolies are intolerable. The US is founded on the principle that powers are separated to keep any one entity from getting too much and being able to infringe on the rights of citizens.

Google is way over that line, with monopolies in many areas. Add the partisan activism, and this is a very toxic brew.


>How much arrogance does it take for a bunch of Googlers to assume the belief that they know what is "just" for the rest of the world?

I'm often stuck in the elevator with Googlers (our office is on the same floor as one of theirs). Some of the stuff that I end up overhearing is particularly jarring. It's not really the opinions but the self entitlement that makes me wish we had faster elevators.


I think the logic is backwards. In today's world government policy is the shadow of business interests, not representative government of the people like it is supposed to be. So I am glad for political discussions inside these large organizations, it seems like an escape valve for a broken system. The biggest problem with it is that it is not representative, as organizations are often unfairly hierarchical (and hence some people get an unfair amount of influence) and the workers in these organizations aren't often a representative cross section of society.


I think you raise a good point about the nature of a for profit organization and it’s design being optimized for a particular thing, which is very much not a thing meant to generate good answers to tricky political questions that impact a whole lot of people/things. In reality, it’s headquarters is in a politically radical place where conservative voices have a helluva hard time speaking up because they could face career backlash by dissenting with the overwhelming majority views in those rooms, which are not representative samples of America. Google decision makers are not designed to be accurate representatives of America’s constituents.

Ideals aside, I think there’s a clear business reality that the radical left employee base is giving google a lot of headaches. Many might argue this is for the better, but that’s mostly because they have similar political sentiments. It seems like woke culture has made google a very tense place and is gobbling them up.


Blaming radical “lefties” and exaggerating their negative influence is a favorite tactic used to demonize that part of society. This is analogous to the now discredited argument of leftist students silencing and tensing up college campuses in the US. And it is a similarly disingenuous argument.


These "arrogant" Googlers aren't changing the magnitude of Google's impact on people's lives. Google's impact will still be there if they go away. There is no option that makes it go away. The choice is between the company's workers trying their best to come up with a just way to pilot it, or Google's impact being directed entirely by its executives and profit motive.


They changed the impact of Google on my life. I completely excised Google from my life after a couple high-profile incidents at Google indicated they the company would use its power for political gain.


>An organization(in this case, a for-profit company) created to deliver products and services to consumers and advertisers playing politics on the world stage is laughable at best, and downright irresponsible at worst.

Most large companies have lobbyists. That's much more "playing politics" than simply deciding not to bid on a military contract.


How arrogant do have to be to not lie, steal, cheat, and kill?

Not at all because acting according to your morality is a basic part of being a human or member of society.

There's no reason that changes because you take your fun hat off and put your work hat on.


> How much arrogance does it take for a bunch of Googlers to assume the belief that they know what is "just" for the rest of the world?

Not very much? Doesn’t everybody think like this in one way or another? I certainly know what is better for the world than the majority of the US.


No, it takes extreme arrogance.

People who look at someone else and think "you should just.." are normal. We all do that.

People who look at the world and say "everyone should just.." are the height of arrogance and epitomize the phrase "The road to hell is paved with good intentions."


Is Google saying "everyone should just.."? It sounds like jgunsch's comment is about "what should we (Google) do?". That is, should Google bid on the JEDI military contract, should Google make a censored search product in China.


> Not very much? Doesn’t everybody think like this in one way or another?

Probably. But lots of people realize they've been wrong before, might be wrong on this occasion, and therefore don't just put their ideas over everybody else's. That's the non-arrogant way to handle that, I guess.


> The discourse around the James Damore memo, as divisive as it was, felt like it still led to a broader understanding of the negative perspectives women in tech had to deal with constantly.

Damore was fired for his contributions to this "conversation". Hardly just.

> particularly the ones who felt it was worth staying and using their influence internally to push Google toward creating a more just world.

How about just returning what I'm actually looking for when I search for something? Or not killing products off when they get traction? Google users don't care at all about the politics of Google employees, they just want the product to actually work which seems to be less important that ever internally at Google.


I largely agree with you.

But I also care a lot about the politics of Google employees insofar as they exercise a tremendous amount of influence over both elections and people's ability to broadcast their messages to the world.

Since Googlers tend to veer decidedly towards one end of the political spectrum, I would like to see their ability to censor speech restricted as much as is technologically possible.


Search is an intensely political issue, we're just used to ignoring that particular aspect.


What results should you and I see when we search Google for gun control? Global warming?


Search is entirely a technical problem. There are literally no politics involved.


So you would agree that since search is entirely technical, then search results by definition cannot present political bias?

Personally I disagree with that claim, but if you feel that search is a wholly technical problem, I'd expect you to agree.

And that doesn't even deal with the obviously political: laws like the right to be forgotten, or other forms of censorship like removals of content due to copyright. How to engage with those is inherently political.


Search should be entirely technical. Sadly it’s currently not.

As a user I want back the documents I’m looking for. If the engine has to adhere to local laws, fine but I want zero editorializing of results.


> As a user I want back the documents I’m looking for

Of course! But converting from a search query to an ordered list of documents requires choices about ranking and filtering to be made.

If I search for "irs" do you include spam phone numbers attempting to steal my identity? There's distinct value to not returning garbage results, but how you do that is going to be called political by some people. And choosing not to do anything is going to be called political by others. There is no non-political choice, despite what you keep implying. Like, given a search query, you can't tell me the objectively correct set of results to return. If you could, you'd be very, very, very rich.

In the absence of that objective, perfect, "true" result, any choice is political in some way or another. Pick an algorithm and I'll happily explain to you a failure mode that is "political".


Sadly, a lot of people genuinely believe that everything is political. I recently expressed hope for the "no politics" guideline of HN be more strictly enforced and was told that "not talking about politics is politics". Frustrating to deal with this mindset...


I'm certainly one of those people. What is the boundary between "politics" and "not politics?" Who gets to decide?

Your employer probably has more effect on your day to day life than your government does. Why would you be allowed to debate what the latter should do but not the former?


> I'm certainly one of those people. What is the boundary between "politics" and "not politics?" Who gets to decide?

It's common sense. Anything that revolves around government, elections, laws, etc.

> Your employer probably has more effect on your day to day life than your government does. Why would you be allowed to debate what the latter should do but not the former?

I meant the exact opposite (I forgot that politics could be taken to mean "office politics" or "company politics"). Getting involved in government politics or activism is your role as a private citizen, not as a company employee. Regarding "company politics" (work hours, office arrangement, project management methodology, managerial decisions, coffee machine model, etc.), I guess it's up to your employer to decide what is up for debate.


>>It's common sense. Anything that revolves around government, elections, laws, etc.

Go ahead and google 'Taiwan' and then 'Canada' or 'Japan'. Taiwan (in the right sidebar thing) is listed differently compared to the others. They're listed as "Country in $X" - Taiwan is not.

That's political. Or is it not? It's "just search", sort of.


I don't see where you're going with this. I never claimed that Google was not political (your example wasn't very convincing though, it simply reflects the fact that Taiwan isn't widely recognized as a country). Also, a more charitable interpretation of the comment you are referring to would be that "search doesn't have to be political".


Your initial comment was "Sadly, a lot of people genuinely believe that everything is political"

Taiwan being a country or not, and what shows up in a google search about it, isn't political for you, or for me, or for many people around the world. It may be very political for the people who live in Taiwan (or China).

Nearly everything is political to someone. So it's not very easy to draw a hard line between political or not. A "no politics" rule is very difficult to enforce in a meaningful way for that reason.


You came up with a super dubious example which doesn't help support your point. Plus if you could convince me that those Wikipedia populated information boxes were politically, I could simply argue that Google should stick to returning links in its search results.

> Nearly everything is political to someone.

Saying that something is political to only a few people is an oxymoron. For example, there are some people who do not recognize Donald Trump as the US president. Is it political to state that the US president is Donald Trump? Absolutely not.

HN is an example of a community where a large majority of the content is apolitical. Drawing the line is really not that hard.


That could be the case if the distribution of views were evenly stratified, but they are not. Even the application of very simple mechanics can subtly amplify the views of the majority.

Search is one example, as is jury selection.


I specifically do not want results manipulated to be more politically correct. It makes sense that the most popular results would be first. I want that.


It's very possible that they are not being manipulated, simply that most people who use the internet are more left/right wing. That's the amplification of the majority.


Damore was fired for his contributions to this conversation". Hardly just.*

According to what you said in this post, It was completely just as Damore basically wrote a dissertation about things that were completely unrelated to any work done for any Google product. All that work would've been tantamount to a complete waste of company time and could be grounds for a firing.

Google users don't care at all about the politics of Google employees

I care a great deal about how Google employees or any employee at any company are treated. You should too since most people spend their lives at companies and policies and laws surrounding them impact people directly.


> It was completely just as Damore basically wrote a dissertation about things that were completely unrelated

It was a completely inconsistent.

Damore was not fired for debating politically-sensitive HR proposals. Many people were involved in the same conversation, with the same degree of relevance to Google's products.

Damore was fired because his proposal was contrary to the majority.

---

It's possible to maintain both that widespread workplace political discussion is a poor idea, and that Damore was unfairly treated relative to his peers.


If your assertion were true, all people who ever voiced a minority opinion would be fired and that’s clearly not true.


I think everyone else took notice that expressing conservative opinions in writing was a fireable offense.


Do you really think that there are no liberal opinions that are fireable? Like if I said all men are rapists, you think that’s a safe thing to say at work?

I think people took notice that saying “women earn less money because their genes make them less good at stuff” is a fireable offense. I actually don’t believe conservatism has anything to do with it.


Damore didn't say that, but that didn't stop lots of people lying about what he wrote.

I guess those few of us who actually read his memo will have to keep repeating this over and over against the wall of lying about it, but one more time - Damore argued women were less interested in computing, and that's why they are "underrepresented". He explained why they might be less interested and showed that this isn't controversial at all, neither with scientists nor anyone who ever tried to interest a pretty girl in the merits of AVX512.

He explicitly didn't argue women were worse at computing though. He said that very clearly.

You ask what liberal opinions get you fired at Google. I'd also like to know that. Here is a petition by nearly 1500 of them which claims border control is comparable to the Holocaust. That's unbelievably extreme, but apparently nobody was fired for it.

https://medium.com/@no.gcp.for.cbp/google-must-stand-against...


For someone who claims to be trying to tackle the misinterpretation of Damore, no where in the medium post you linked does it say what you claim it says. It doesn't compare CBP to the Holocaust. It sites the human rights abuses that it is enabling that has lead to the death of 7 people by forcing these people into indefinite detention for what could be, at worst argued, a misdemeanor. They're held enmasse in cages in warehouses which fits the textbook definition of a concentration camp. It's surely not as bad as the Holocaust (which this petition doesn't claim what you claim it does), but it's not any better.


It says:

In working with CBP, ICE, or ORR, Google would be trading its integrity for a bit of profit, and joining a shameful lineage. We have only to look to IBM’s role working with the Nazis during the Holocaust to understand the role that technology can play in automating mass atrocity.

That's pretty direct. Working with ICE would be a "mass atrocity" and "we have only to look at IBM's role working with the Nazis during the Holocaust to understand".

You say, "It doesn't compare CBP to the Holocaust" but I'm going to have to disagree. Why bring up the Nazis at all if they aren't making that comparison, which a plain reading of their words absolutely seems to do?

They're held enmasse in cages in warehouses which fits the textbook definition of a concentration camp

Huh, and now you seem to be doing it too.

No, it fits the definition of a prison, which is where you'd expect them to be given that they're breaking the law. Are all prisons concentration camps now? No, concentration camps are defined by the fact that they imprison identity-based groups of people who haven't committed any normal crime - e.g. political prisoners, disfavoured ethnic groups and so on.

It's surely not as bad as the Holocaust (which this petition doesn't claim what you claim it does), but it's not any better.

This last part is a puzzle to figure out. It's not as bad, but also not better - those two things are in contradiction.

I don't think comparing immigration laws of any country to the Holocaust is helpful at all, as that would make literally every country basically the same as the Third Reich, which they clearly are not. And not only those Googlers are doing it but now you are too!


It's not direct. IBM was just an example to illustrate the point of what CBP is doing in terms of following a lineage of supporting mass atrocity, of which indefinitely detaining people in an inadequate facility is a mass atrocity. They aren't making an equivalence like you claimed. They could've used Japanese internment camps. However, people know what the Holocaust is a lot more.

A prison is when you're incarcerated in your own cell and not a crowded cell. A prison provides adequate comfort that meets a minimum standard of care for inmates. A prison is not putting 30 people in one room, putting 30 people in a fenced in cage, providing lack of hygiene products and having 30 people to a single toilet. They're not provided space blankets and given no bed.

A concentration camp, by definition is deliberate incarceration of a minority group in inadequate facilities to sometimes perform labor or be exterminated. Going through this one by one:

1) They're being incarcerated even for claiming asylum (which is legal in the US) and crossing a port of entry is not illegal.

2) They're being incarcerated indefinitely which is also illegal.

3) They're an identity group (ie. of latin heritage). There are no detention centers for Canadian immigrants.

4) They're placed in warehouses in cages with little access to hygienic facilities. They're placed in mass groups with no beds or individual cells. This fits the inadequate facilities criteria.

So yes, that fits the definition of a concentration camp pretty clearly.


> women earn less money because their genes make them less good at stuff

That's a poor paraphrase.

A more accurate one would be "Women earn less money on average because on average they are less interested in earning due to long-standing innate differences."


You're right; the criteria was incomplete.

Damore was fired because his proposal was contrary to the majority and it became widespread knowledge.

Were Damore's part of the discussion never leaked, then I assume it would have been a slap on the wrist or just a shrug.


There is some variance in the level of emotional, economic stake between issues.


But that isn't one off Google's workplace rules, and evaluation of whether or not someone is being "just" should be partially based on how well they apply their own rules.

If I say "this thing is permitted" and then punish someone for doing that thing, it should be unjust in your eyes whether or not you would have said "this thing is permitted."


No. Why do you presume they don't apply their rules correctly? And what makes you think this isn't one of Google's rules? A diversity class usually means diversity in the sense of protected classes, not political opinions.


I was responding to

"According to what you said in this post, It was completely just as Damore basically wrote a dissertation about things that were completely unrelated to any work done for any Google product."

My comment was explaining why i disagree with the above. It has nothing to do with whether I agree or disagree with Google's policies, past or present.


My understanding is that Damore was asked for his response to a training class he had taken. That would make the dissertation, as you call it, a work assignment. Is that understanding incorrect?


Yes. For a number of reasons, not least of all that such feedback optional, and to be sent to the people who managed the class.

So it wasn't an assignment, and sharing it with everyone wasn't the way to handle it.


It wasn't feedback, it was a report on what he got from there so Google could improve its practices. One solicited by Google.


That doesn't address either of the things I said, so I'll restate them:

1. Anything he did was optional, it was therefore not a work assignment.

2. If such a report was solicited (which I don't actually agree with in the way you're implying), the way to provide it wasn't to post it on public company mailing lists, but to give the report to the people in charge of the class.

Do you disagree with either of those claims?

I'll now add a third one:

3. A "report" of the form he provided wasn't solicited by Google. They solicited feedback on the class. Your claiming this wasn't feedback on the class. Therefore it wasn't solicited.


The second one is completely wrong, and I think the first is though I'm not certain.

* No one was looking for feedback on the class as far as I remember.

* He went to an external session to learn how to improve their own processes, which is the report he wrote. I believe in one interview he said his did do it at some manager's suggestion, and so did use work time for the trip with their (figurative) blessing.

* He sent his report only to one or two internal groups, never a public internal mailing list (one was meant to privately poke holes so submitters could improve their arguments before submitting it to HR or whoever. I've heard conflicting stuff on the order of events, so he may or may not have sent it to HR).

* It was the internal quality group that leaked it to a public internal mailing list instead of maintaining privacy.


This is the problem with these things. Literally every claim you've made is wrong. I don't know where you got it, but if you aren't a google employee, I can promise I'm more reliable than whatever you got it from. But nothing I can say is verifiable, except through oft-contradictory leaks. It's infuriating and unproductive, so I'll stop.


That's what he claims it was. He also posted it on an internally accessible mail list within the company. That's a very odd way to give feedback about a course. Usually you provide feedback directly to whoever is in charge of the course and not let the entirety of the company view it.


Damore should have been fired for his awful logical reasoning skills. No harm no foul.


I felt the Damore affair exposed a perverse situation. Essentially anybody denying that there were an equal number of women equally inclined towards and capable of performing in a certain industry is used as proof of systemic discrimination. Leaving that uncontested also proves systemic discrimination since there are less women in the field proving the sexism. Then when people get upset that they're being discriminated against and lash out that also proves the sexism. Yet when I talk to just about every ordinary person on the street there is just about nobody who believes women and men have a 50:50 inclination towards all types of work besides fringe egalitarians.

If an honest discussion cannot take place that yes women are discriminated against, but that yes men and women DO in fact differ, then affirmative action will inevitably stop being about stopping sexism and start being about forcing equity as time goes on. You would have to apply a LOT of oppressive systemic sexism and force a whole lot of people male and female into jobs they're bad at and unhappy with to fix inequity in tech. Currently the reaction to people pointing out the looming problem is to fire that autistic employee for sexism and for the CEO to make a public apology.

Damore was just ahead of his time. Affirmative action hasn't distorted tech enough to destroy itself yet.


History is full of nasty stories of groups of people pushing towards creating a 'just' world.

Absolute conviction of righteousness leads to polarazation leads to extremism as nuanced opinions are projected onto the anti-pole. 'You are either with us or against us', 'You are part of the (our) solution or part of the problem', 'the end justifies the means', 'you can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs' ...

The art of moderation seems completely lost as people are swept up in a never ending exaggerated and overexposed arena that requires pledges of allegiance and virtue signalling, demonization and sacrificing above and beyond all reason.

I'm not advocating everyone just shut the hell up, but the moment you when asked would not be able to switch sides in a debate and plead the opposite's case because you are so far down the path that you can not imagine anything but 'pure evil' as the motivations behind your opponent, you are no longer a valid contributor to the conversation, you are just part of a lynch mob out for blood.


Where in your comment do you show any indication you understand your views are very much both subjective and opinion and based on your necessarily limited lived experience?

In the few concrete examples you have, your wording implies a one sided take on various controversial topics.

People who think like that aren’t creating a “just world” by any definition I agree with. It’s more an example of the truism that the most dangerous people are the ones who are convinced they are acting from a place of moral correctness.

These people aren’t the solution, they are the problem.

And they can’t be reasoned with because they can’t see that, which is why they can’t stamp the problem out.


> "Google is far too large and influential"

This is precisely why these discussions should be limited and isolated to groups who need to specifically work on them for products.


"..using their influence internally to push Google toward creating a more just world"

The above statement terrifies me. We didn't elect anyone at Google to do this for us.


I worked at Google for quite a while, 2005-2013, and even then, the internal political discussion was pretty toxic, but a lot smaller in scope since there are far fewer people.

It sounds like the work culture at Google has rediscovered the emergent factors which gave rise to the traditional cultural strictures against talking about money, politics, and religion.

Good science is repeatable. Given that Google is arguably an intellectually friendly environment, where more people than average understand how to talk in ways that get closer to truth, the inadvertent experiment conducted by Google over the past 15 years or so should hold a lot of weight.

It only makes sense that they're cutting down on something that has turned toxic. It's a bit disappointing to hear, since I personally enjoyed the occasional, honest discussion with smart people of other viewpoints - these good discussions made the much larger number of ridiculous ones, bearable.

It sounds like the overall cost-benefit tradeoff supports Google corporate's decision. (There were externalities beyond the discussions themselves.)


I remember the Founder's Letter included with Google's IPO in 2004 - "Google is not a traditional company. We do not intend to become one." It looks like they became one.

The other interesting takeaway for me is how long-term equilibria can leave holes that may be exploited by short-term-focused actors. When Google was young, it's say-anything culture was a big competitive advantage: it let them hire people who were nearly unhireable elsewhere because they were too free with their opinions or too difficult to work with, and it let people be more open about their emotions, which is a prerequisite for creativity. Many of these people were immensely productive, building key systems. But as Google grew, this same culture would've led to the destruction of the company, so eventually management is forced to clamp down on it. Not before making the founders and many employees fabulously wealthy and reshaping the industry, though.


Every company becomes a "traditional" company because only traditional companies have survived. If alternative structures worked well then we would've seen them by now.

Also I'm willing to be that a startup's lack of bureaucracy and momentum lets it experiment and move faster rather than just a carefree internal attitude. I've been in midsize companies on both sides of the free-culture spectrum and have never noticed any major difference in talent or capabilities.


> If alternative structures worked well then we would've seen them by now

Well let’s not go this far. Human civilization has existed for a tiny portion of time, modern civilization even less so. There’s PLENTY of time for better structures to be discovered.


Within current historical and cultural context, legal and technology frameworks etc the dataset is big enough to give some confidence that better structures won’t be found tomorrow or in the next 5 years.


Somebody probably said that just before an innovation is made. Many times.


For every time someone said it and was wrong, I bet there were a hundred times someone said it and was right.


Come on, this isn’t a pissing contest. You can both sit down and relax without arguing through such subjective and unsubstantiated opinions.


It's not a pissing contest; it's a misunderstanding of giving equal weight to two incredibly different probabilities. When Fox News says it's important to have a discussion about climate change and give 50% time to those for and against it, they are conveniently ignoring that 98% of scientists believe in climate change and 2% don't. But they are essentially saying both viewpoints are equally important, even though one is widely accepted to be true by the scientific community.

Yes, it's certainly possible that thinking different (or being contrarian, or stubborn, or creative, or whatever you want to call it) will lead to something great! It is also extremely unlikely unless you are in a brand new field such as quantum physics 100 years ago that whatever idea you had has already been considered by countless people before you and you are not special.

The reason most startups fail is more than just bad execution. It's because most startups weren't meant to exist because they just don't solve a problem people are willing to pay enough to make the company a profit. That doesn't mean you shouldn't try it if you really think you're onto something - but you should be aware the odds are wildly against you.


It's odd that when it comes to social issues, this site suddenly becomes conservative and doesn't even think progress is possible.


this site suddenly becomes conservative and doesn't even think progress is possible

Progress is possible. The thing is, that progress doesn't necessarily take the form that people wish it would take in their utopian fantasies. If we use history as a guide, we find that progress almost always takes a form with would have been unimaginable to past generations, if not at times even a little shocking to them. For example: The progress of agricultural technology, and its ability to feed people with unprecedented efficiency would have been considered wonderful and utopian by our forebears, until they started looking into some of the disturbing details.

A realistic, nuanced view of issues involving human factors and group psychology often incorporates elements of both the progressive and conservative mindsets. Both viewpoints are needed for effective, balanced government.


These platitudes are of course correct but quite irrelevant here.


Corporate structures are created by and serve human civilizations, so I think we've reached an optimal solution given our current societies.

We will need to wait for an evolution in human interaction before any new developments follow in corporate design.


This is an absurd statement and demonstrably false on several fronts.

1) large corporations that do exist are quite different,for example there are cooperative member-run organisations like John Lewis that have been very successful. Additionally, different countries, say compare Germany, US and Italy will have different corporate structure and culture.

2) There is a massive body of academically reviewed research that demonstrates that managers and executives are affected by fads that measurably reduce productivity (such as open plan offices) and often unwilling to change even when more efficient methods are presented

3) In corporate governance there is large mount of conflict of interest. Take Skyrocketing executive pay in the past 30 years, frequent bubles, tax evasion, large amount of fraud in financial sector. etc. Does that look like an optimal, balanced system?


Have you heard this economic joke before?

"Hey there is a $20 bill."

"No it's not. If it was really $20, someone would have picked it up already."


Actually, there's a TED talk where the implementers of remote, self-contained ATMs in India had to modify their procedures and deliberately rough up and age their paper money. Otherwise, people didn't believe that the crisp, perfect paper money that came out of those remote ATMs was real money.

If it was really ₹2000, someone would already have roughed it up already.


Look up WL Gore and Associates. They have thrived on a very different company power structure. Or maybe their founder was right and the power structure wasn't different (he thought official power structures were not where the power was held, and therefore dispensed with them in order for unofficial power structures to more easily come to the fore).

The problem is that you have to have some forms of effort in coordination and there aren't a while lot of models for that in actual practice. There are a few different topologies.

Where I work is becoming more of a traditional company in many ways. But I still look to Gore's insight that the real decisions are made around the water cooler and in the carpool van, and that is helpful.


>But I still look to Gore's insight that the real decisions are made around the water cooler and in the carpool van, and that is helpful.

So it assumes a very in-person culture for one thing.

Which is fine. But it basically excludes models based on people communicating in a more distributed way. And that probably strictly limits size and geographic diversity.

Nothing wrong with that. I can say I'm building a company in X location. I want everyone to come into the office and we're not looking to get big. That's fine. Among other things, you've described every local manufacturing, wtc. business.


I am not sure that's the assumption behind it, but I do agree these things are products of assumptions.

I have ideas for how I would organize a company if I had a blank slate. However, usually if you start getting investment, the discussions get more restricted.


Well, Google only changed when they reached two orders of magnitude the size of Goretex, so maybe the answer is that Gore just didn't get big enough.


Two orders of magnitude would put them at a million employees?


Sorry, I was thinking revenue but I don't see how revenue is the right number. One order of magnitude in employees it is.


I think the bigger issue is that Google is publicly traded.


I kinda of see what you are pointing at, but by definition every alternative structures we’ve seen survive long enough is now part of our tradition, so “traditional”.

I don’t see this as just a play on word, there is a wide variety of existing models that worked, and I’d also totally see a new model emerge and become “traditonal” when adopted widely enough. The world changes, companies should to.


or, it was never not a traditional company, and this was wishful magical thinking.

Pretty sure from day 1, they produced something and attempted to sell it for gains. Pretty traditional to me. Kind of the only way to do business.


Google was also smaller, which both makes political discussions feel more personal and allows maintaining a political bias in recruiting/hiring because you don't need to fill headcount as urgently. I would absolutely believe that a company of 100 SJWs bringing their whole self to work contracting with a company of 100 MAGA hat wearers bringing their whole self to work would be more productive than putting all 200 of them in a single company and imposing the traditional politeness restrictions of a corporate job.

So the question in my mind is, why did Google need to grow?


>100 SJWs [...] contracting with a company of 100 MAGA [...] would be more productive than putting all 200 of them in a single company and imposing the traditional politeness restrictions of a corporate job. So the question in my mind is, why did Google need to grow?

I had trouble parsing what you wrote but I think the question you're asking (growth with employees vs growth by contractors?) is answered by Coase's "The Nature of the Firm": https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Nature_of_the_Firm

EDIT to reply: I don't think it's about "diversity". OP specifically asked ", why did Google need to grow?"

Presumably, the question could be expanded as "why did Google need to grow to 100,000 _employees_?" instead of "only have ~1000 core employees on Google payroll and augment with 99,000 _contractors_". (The reason given by Coase is that activities mediated by too many unnecessary external vendors with contracts is less efficient than hiring people into the firm.)

I left it open for OP to clarify what he was asking but I don't think it's about diversity.


No, he's saying diversity is disruptive/adds friction . See https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=128026...


I'm specifically saying that political diversity (sometimes inaccurately called "diversity of thought") is disruptive. If one side thinks the other side doesn't believe they should exist as people—and even more so if they correctly believe so—how do you get the psychological safety to tell each other hard truths about their work?

(As for demographic diversity, the SJW population and to a lesser the MAGA population have that, empirically it doesn't inherently cause strife.)


If one side thinks the other side doesn't believe they should exist as people—and even more so if they correctly believe so

As someone who had grown up in a part of the country, where my parents had to drive almost 50 miles to hang out with people vaguely of the same ethic group, let me posit that the real problem is:

People who don't think certain other people should get to simply exist.

On the other hand, a company full of people who genuinely believe in fundamental human rights, self determination, live and let live, and the equality of people (even of people they don't like or agree with) does just fine. My former company did just fine with that. Democrats interacted with republicans, with people of faith, with atheists, with people of all backgrounds and skin colors.

The problem is with people who go around "seeking" people with the wrong opinion. Frankly, this reminds me of the same kind of "seeking" that some people who turned out to be racist enacted with me as a young adult, questioning me to find out how "American" I was to justify mistreating me. (Even some of them know better than to attribute to genetics what should be attributed to culture.) The similarity with which some people (who claim to be about "love" and "justice") enact the same "seek, then persecute" pattern is eerie to me.

I'd rather have someone who would use a racial slur on me, then accord me some meritocratic respect later, than someone who assumes I should think, vote, and affiliate a certain way based on my skin color, then gets outraged if my compliance to their expectations isn't 100%. True liberals are live and let live. It's false to be "liberal" and then demand ideological compliance -- or else. Doubly so if that reaction is based on identity.


...if everyone is bringing their whole self to work. Not saying I agree or disagree, but I think that's important context that shouldn't be left out.


The issue isn’t that contractors are less productive, nor are they less capital efficient. The issue is they are less easily controlled. You can’t just issue a directive via email and expect them to obey it because that will put their legal status as contractors in jeopardy. You can’t just demand they use your equipment or follow corporate policy.

If you are happy just having the job done, and don’t need the ability to control details of execution then contractors are often more efficient. (Depends on the task and the market)

The danger is, you may find your contractors start selling to your competitors. Then you need to compete on your core product.

Most corporate strategies don’t boil down to “have a competitive core product” they boil down to “control as many aspects of your market as you can so the cost of entry is too high for others to follow”.


The larger issue is that if we accept a correct scope of work to be including someone's sense of social justice, then what happens when you now have a lot of people from very different cultures perhaps with very different views of cultural topics such as gender.

If we accept that culture influences politics, then cultural diversity means necessarily political diversity does it not?


> It looks like they became one.

It's the same way in every endeavor. People get used to doing things a certain way, and forget the reason why. Try a different way, and relearn the reason why :-)

It's a reason why hiring some older people is worthwhile. They can tell you why things are done in way X, so you can avoid costly mistakes.


You live long enough to become a terrible company, bought by one, or go bankrupt.


Traditional doesn't mean terrible. You can use cultural queues from previous versions without taking the toxic parts.


“Traditional doesn't mean terrible.“

This. Worked at HP for years. It was a pretty great company for the most part.

Until Carly Fiorina joined. Amazing how one person can so transform a company - in a bad way. It started almost immediately. But buying Compaq really accelerated it. Companies like Compaq that have been in a slow death spiral throw off good employees.

That leaves low performing politically focused who protect their own. When they get purchased and “integrated” and they start filtering throughout the parent - like an infection, spreading their poison and killing it from the inside out.


HP was on a downward trajectory before that. Which is why Fiorina ended up on board. As a colleague of mine notes at the time "Bring back Lew Platt" was not really a strategy either. I do think the big computer companies of the era reached a certain ceiling beyond which it was challenging to grow.


Haha this prompted a flashback to an all-hands we had when purchased by Lucent, led by Fiorina and her minion Lance Boxer (you might think that's from a comic book, but literally that was his name... for when the pugilistic becomes pornographic). She talked about how we were all in for the long haul together, and was gone to HP within months...


Certainly a 100,000 person company is going to have characteristics that someone who generally prefers a 1,000 or 100 person company may not much like. But not all large companies become "terrible" companies--whatever that means exactly.

As the peer comment notes, there are also companies that remain private and mostly small and march to their own drummer. Of course, those can easily end up in family control spats and the like.

Nothing's perfect but I'm not sure the lesson is everything sucks or dies in the end.


Surely counterexamples exist...

W. L. Gore and Associates?

Rocky Mountain Institute?

Renaissance Technologies?


while I agree with most of your points, being more open about emotions is definitely not a prerequisite for creativity.


My tenure overlapped ('06 - '10) and the discussions were lively. There were (and probably still are) interesting meta-terms like 'centathread' which was a topic that had received >= 100 replies (the gmail threading limit at the time).

That said, the change in policy (what is cited at least) reads a bit like "Let's create air cover for management actions to separate trouble makers from the company." Where trouble makers has enough vagueness in it to cover a wide swath of things. That allows for 'for cause' termination which is more financially advantageous to the company than simply laying someone off.

So to the extent that Google didn't want to be a 'traditional' company with all its rules and opaque policies and structures, it clearly is learning through experience the motivations that companies have for establishing those sorts of rules.

What I find disappointing is that after reproducing the experiment and getting the same results, they aren't able to come up with any other solution than the centuries old authoritarian one. I feel like they missed an opportunity here.


There’s a decent chance this centuries old authoritarian method, which is more like millennia old, is actually the best way of dealing with it.

Humans are more or less the same as a few millennia ago. Our technology is more advanced, we’ve more or less covered every corner of the planet, we have birthed billions of humans and built millions of organizations of every stripe, and dealt with as many management issues as there were and are people.

We haven’t significantly advanced in our cognitive capabilities, we’ve just learned how to outsource more to experts and computers. If there’s one difference between us and us a few millennia ago, it would be that there are so many more humans on the planet that we probably don’t have a role in society for everyone. Under, e.g. a feudal System, every person had a functional role, and those that didn’t could at least point a spear in more or less the correct orientation. Vagrants of course were prosecuted and often pressed into service doing something somewhere for somebody.

In 2018, Google had ~99K full time employees. That’s larger than most cities, and historically, most countries. At that scale, you eventually need to tell most of them sit down, shut up and fall in line. Check their problems at the door, and if they really really need to fight about something, do it off premises on their off time without company resources, just to keep the peace.


I don't disagree, but I will contrast that with my later experience at IBM (when they bought Blekko).

IBM had at the time 400,000+ employees, so more than four times the employee base of Google. IBM is over a hundred years old at this point so have been doing this about five times longer than Google has.

In IBM's case they came at it from the opposite direction. Fifty years ago there was practically zero horizontal communication in the ranks and they were interested in increasing that to get better dispersal of thoughts and ideas throughout the company. As a result they were deploying and encouraging a sort of internal social network to improve cross flow and get more things out.


You raise an excellent point, and going over-totalitarian is just as likely to crush innovation as anything else.

However, I think taking an authoritarian stance on politics, religion and so on in the workplace, so long as it is done in a respectful manner and puts everyone on the same level, is completely appropriate.

When you are a group of ten, and that’s your entire company, you can get away with a lot. Everyone is going to know each other, maybe a little more intimately than some of them would prefer. Your CEO might also be your drinking buddy and a good wingman. That’s the nature of a small organization.

At 2K, things don’t have to be quite so intimate, you don’t have to know everyone by face and name, just get along with them well enough to do your jobs.

I’m not going to try and guess where the tipping point is, but at 99K or 400K, there isn’t a lot of difference between the organization ability you need. Everyone has their own ideas about Life, the Universe and Everything, some teams might get along better than others, but politics and religion and the like have led to actual wars between smaller masses of people. If you have 99K on your payroll, not all of them are going to like and respect each other. Not every team is going to have perfect cohesion with every other team.

You still want civility. Every one of those 99K or 400K people has their own ambitions and dreams and reasons for getting out of bed at whatever time of day they crawl out of bed. But there is a time and a place for it, a whole wide world and life outside that of your employer’s little world, where not everyone is necessarily on the same payroll.

Absolutely if you can build an internal social network for your workers, that’s great! If they want to debate politics outside of work, that’s great too! It is still entirely appropriate to moderate that network, and draw a few hard lines where you think it is appropriate.


Typically, bureaucracy and internal policies are what kills innovation in large established companies, not lack of political debate. It takes so much energy and internal politics to make the smallest changes that an organisation constituted of otherwise smart knowledgeable people will only produce mediocrity.


But what is the alternative? The problem is diametric opinions end with two people (no company involved). What is the company to do to get people with opposing views to “get along”?

Let’s put up Tibet. Some people will have strong opinions on one side and another set will have strong opinions on the other side. (Most people will be indifferent).

How can the company manage that tension among people who work for them when those people believe the company has given them the freedom to pick a side and express that side and perhaps vocalize and ultimately mobilize?

I don’t see an obvious solution to this beside the traditional course. The present alternatives are even more “authoritarian” (i.e. firing the adherents of the wrong opinion, etc.)


Good example :-)

The 'hard' solution is to teach people to communicate about topics on which they disagree. An easier solution would be to have employee moderators. A combination of providing communication classes and moderators with a dose of involuntary enrollment might be a middle ground.

For a long time Google generated hundreds of thousands of dollars per employee in revenue which they have been banking for the most part, and occasionally spending on acquisitions. An alternative would be an employee communications support network that promoted good communication skills and facilitated improvements in employee discourse on all topics. Google could have funded an entire research institute and a few thousand employee 'coaches' without meaningfully digging into their cash pile. That would have been "non-traditional."


I love that suggestion and I've borderline fantasized about initiatives like that. I always wonder why debate-focused activities aren't more popular. A few obstacles usually come to mind:

1) Top-down, it's hard to convince people of the value of this who don't already see the value. It's hard to attach a KPI to it, hard to attribute changes. Or at least, from some POVs.

2) It's hard to be sure there will be participation. It's easy to pop off via text when you're procrastinating or got (self-)baited into a conversation. Scheduling discussion time / debate club or whatever feels like a chore.

3) It takes work. Like, to actually have a good debate about something takes time to think, engage, research, reflect and iterate the conversation. Not to mention the willingness. As above, it's easier to engage in junk food discourse than it is to challenge yourself, patiently tune your message over time or advance a dialectic.

But that said, those all feel like workable problems. I'm not sure if I'm missing something or if this is one of those cases where nobody has mustered enough will and attention to give it a real shot.


Mediation and coaching are certainly great ideas for non-traditional approaches, although I feel that’s beyond the scope of a company given how resource intensive this is.

Beside, you won’t get the Dalai Lama with all the tools at his avail to accept the mainstream Chinese point of view.

That said I wouldn’t mind if a company tried this approach out of curiosity to see how it works out.


> although I feel that’s beyond the scope of a company given how resource intensive this is.

That's the thing, Google banks multiple BILLION dollars in free cash every quarter. Lets say you build a 'company within the company' and give it a budget of $100M a YEAR. That is a pretty sizable enterprise for what is funded out of about 1% of the cash that would otherwise just sit around in 'cash and cash equivalents'.

One might think that an executive management team might say, "Hmm, if we spend 1% of our free cash flow on improving the communications of all of our employees, what effect will that have on their productivity?" Will they be "more productive" or "less productive" ? They already have the null hypothesis results to compare to.

To make a comparison, a more "traditional" company might consider starting up a private bus service to move their employees from their homes to work and back again was too resource intensive. And yet that is exactly what Google did.


> The 'hard' solution is to teach people to communicate about topics on which they disagree. An easier solution would be to have employee moderators. A combination of providing communication classes and moderators with a dose of involuntary enrollment might be a middle ground.

The easy solution is to just do what has always been common sense: don’t talk politics at work. Because even the if there is healthy debate, at the end of the day people are petty about people on “the other team.” For example, I’ve gotta imagine being outed as a Trump voter at Google has to put a huge target on your back.


Problem solved: There should be no "opinion" at the workplace outside professional topics. Unless you're the person in charge of the Tibet strategy, your opinion should stay at home.

It's a workplace, not your buddy's couch.


I agree but what if the employer takes a position on Tibet? Or more likely on any hot potato topic (gender equality, Trump, pushing the political debate either side if the company has the ability to do so, etc).


The workplace is part of society, of course opinions belong there.


Great points. There are plenty of areas to discuss politics, and at work doesn't have to be one of them.

I've studiously avoided talking to anybody at work about politics, as it usually only serves to anger people if you don't agree. I've had a successful career of doing that.


I enjoy discussing politics, at work too, however, you have to do it in a respectful way. Politics is like religion, you will never directly convince anyone of anything, but if you can expose them to new ideas, and watch them either incorporate or challenge these ideas, it's a really rewarding discussion. You also have to limit these discussions to willing participants.

In my time at Google, there were tons of people who felt they had the right answer, and had to convince everyone else who was wrong to come around to their views.


>you will never directly convince anyone of anything

Policy is the surface level of a deep tree of rational beliefs. No one will ever be convinced of policy because each sees their favored policy as rational due to the underpinning structure of beliefs.

Discussions that don't begin with the core beliefs are bound to lead nowhere, you're right.


You're right in that a lot of policy debate these days is folks talking past each other, ignoring their irreconcilable fundamental assumptions. But a discussion artifically limited to discussing those in the abstract will go nowhere. Most people best converse productively at the level of a series of examples.


I agree. A big reason for not achieving something in an activity (whether a discussion, a software project or something else) is not being clear what you want to achieve in the first place.


That sounds like a fine approach, but unfortunately politics creeps into more and more aspects of life, hardly any topic remains apolitical. Like that quote "you may not be interested in war, but ..."


That sounds like a fine approach, but unfortunately politics creeps into more and more aspects of life.

Do a historical survey of people who tried to suffuse politics completely through the lives of their followers. For completeness, look also at the actions of religions in the same way.

Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Politics, movements of any kind which demand the entirety of the lives of their followers are often perpetrators of the worst things.

As a counterpoint, look to times and places where people are free to be open, to be themselves, and to choose how they live. There is also a power in the dispersal of power. Many call this freedom.

Like that quote "you may not be interested in war, but ..."

The way Robert Heinlein put it was something like this: "The end product of politics is like the result of peristalsis. It's not very pleasant, but it's no less vital to your health and well being." I think this is a good analogy. Imagine having a cocktail party conversation with someone singularly obsessed with their digestive tract.


I surely enjoy wild associations as much as the next guy, but I meant more pedestrian topics such as:

- are you eating meat or are you vegetarian?

- do you take a car to work or ride a bike or take public transportation?

- do you drink tap water or bottled water?

- do you send your kids to private or public school?

Now try discussing any of these in depth "without politics".


I'm trying to say this as politely as possible, but... are you serious?

If you seriously cannot have conversations at this level without them turning into political discussions, you really need to reflect on your conversational habits. It is absolutely not normal or healthy if you can't talk about drinking water without it turning political.

My SO is a vegetarian. It comes up a lot, both with my friends (who are all meat eaters) and newly met people alike, but I seriously cannot think of one single time it has turned into a political issue.

If these topics are frequently turning political for you, it's on you.


This is a Bay Area thing (I live here).

In places where there's more political diversity, people aren't so uptight. They know there are others who aren't like them, that's OK, and we all sort of get on with our lives. I grew up in Illinois and it feels this way.

Whereas in northern California, the "muscle" of respectful tolerance doesn't get as much exercise. People are a lot more alike and if you stand out, it seems weird. Which is kind of ironic for a place that's supposedly bought into "diversity" or "tolerance".


Can you discuss with your SO why the vegetarianism without getting into political questions like:

    1.  What are our obligations to organisms we eat?
    2.  What are our obligations to each other?
    3.  Is vegetarianism an obligation?  Why or why not?
I don't see how those are not political issues.


Yes. I am truly trying my best to understand your viewpoint here, but I honestly don't understand why you imply that those questions, or even any questions similar to them, would be necessary parts of a conversation about vegetarianism. In all of the various discussions we've had with each other and with other people, even very in-depth ones about her reasoning for being a vegetarian and how other people are not vegetarian, not once has any three of those questions come up.


The original point was in-depth discussion of things like dietary restrictions necessarily come to political questions. The counter-argument seems to be "don't discuss anything in depth."


That is not at all the counter argument. It is very possible (easy, even, at least for me and my work/social circle) to have very in depth conversations about vegetarianism without bringing up any of the questions you posed. As I said in my previous comment, my SO and I have in-depth conversations all the time with people regarding vegetarianism and not once has any of those questions surfaced.

I showed my SO this thread and she laughed at the notion that she apparently can't discuss her lifestyle (she takes a car to work and drinks tap water, too) without it being political.

I suspect, as another commenter said, that this is apparently a cultural aspect where I and those around me have always grown up talking to people about such topics without any of them becoming political, while apparently others have not had such 'training'.


I agree. You just don't have to ask. Maybe if you're really curious, but it doesn't have to be this damned inquisition.


There is a confusion here. These are certainly ethical issues, that may be discussed at the level of the particular personal ethics practiced by particular people. Immediately jumping to the political is a particular (and particularly unpleasant) way of answering these questions, but not the only way. I would never eat chimpanzee, but I would consider eating horse. My friend would never eat horse, but would consider eating veal. We can discuss this from an ethical perspective. We don't have to lower the discussion to politics.


What do you mean by political then? How is it separate from ethical?


It's a good question; I may not have a satisfactory answer. There is something uncontrollable about the political. It always stands in relation to the rest of humanity, and we can't control or necessarily even predict what they will decide. Whereas, even if I take inspiration from other humans whom I treat as ethical exemplars, my sense of ethics comes ultimately from myself.

Whether one sees a distinction between these two concepts may align with one's position on the spectrum between individualist and authoritarian. Or maybe not, I really don't know...


> Whether one sees a distinction between these two concepts may align with one's position on the spectrum between individualist and authoritarian. Or maybe not, I really don't know...

If so, then we would assume that people who see a distinction there would also see nothing wrong with different countries having different political orders, for example stronger gender roles, procreation being tied to marriage, and marriage being tied to household business? We might assume that authoritarians would want to stamp out such variations and individualists would assume that different cultures can organize things like marriage and business differently?

But that doesn't match our observations I think, so it has to be something different. Either that or everyone is secretly an authoritarian when it comes to disagreements regarding social order and ethics of relationships or when we decide to be because it is "really important."


I don't feel that assumption is warranted, but I'm not surprised that someone else does. For myself, I definitely prefer some political orders to others.

Even so, I recognize that some authoritarian polities produce better lives for many of their subjects than some less authoritarian polities do. There's always room for improvement. A situation in which husbands don't beat wives because the people are educated in humane fashion is strictly superior, in my estimation, to one in which husbands don't beat wives because that would invite devastating punishment from the state. Even that latter situation is strictly superior to one in which husbands do beat wives and the state reserves its devastating punishments for other purposes.

However, that is not to say that the society blessed by humane education should make war on either of the other two, or on some society like our own in USA that is in some sense an average of all three. Humane culture is best spread by example, not by the sword.


By the way I agree that we should lead by example but I don't know how you can get beyond the fact that different evils are so different they cannot be directly weighed off each other.

For example how do you weigh the draining of capital by foreign companies agains the purported benefits of liberating people from family and family business expectations (which my wife by the way definitely does not want to be liberated from)?


So the individualist seeks authority to impose individualism globally through, for example, treaties like TPP etc? Or am I missing something?


It is possible to simply not seek authority. We can opine without seeking to enforce our opinions on others. I was no fan of TPP, but I never took any action that was motivated by that opinion.


I agree. A live-and-let-live view is best across cultural divides.


It's usually the vegetarian (vegan) that starts it, so if it doesn't turn into an issue, your SO has the non-escalation skills, not all of your meat-eating normies.


Vegetarianism is a political issue (except when it is a medical one). Animal rights are a political issue and so is ecological policy.


I'm curious if you live in San Francisco, Seattle, New York City, Portland or any "woke" city. The point you're replying to is palpable as someone that has lived in two of these places, but I agree that it would sound absurd based on my experience living in places that aren't highly woke.


I live in Texas, so I suppose not.

That said, my SO and I travel frequently (and due to the nature of our work, our friend group is very varied in terms of where they come from, with several of them being ex-SFers/ex-NYCers, etc). I honestly can't think of any increased politicization when talking with non-Texan friends versus Texan friends.


Many of the ex-SFers/ex-NYCers are the ones trying to escape the madness in these woke cities.

Texas is a far more sane place than these cities.


These are all very easy to discuss at work without politics. You ask, "Do you have any dietary restrictions? If so you should make sure to read the menu closely, it'll tell you what the dish contains."

There, now I know as much as I need to about my coworker's diet. We're here to work and if you're going to be a member of a _diverse_ community with a shared goal you're going to need to accept that other people live their lives differently than yours and that's ok. I don't need to know the reason my coworker is a vegetarian I just need to let them know if my cookies that I brought to work contain animal products.

If you refuse to get along the result will be internal strife and the shared goal, a successful company, a working community, etc. will fail.


But you can't go into depth very far on any of these without reaching political topics, can you?


Sure you can. You can have an attitude of tolerance, of acceptance, and embrace different opinions/stances. Judge a little less, worry a little less about what others do.

Our culture has become a toxic stew caused by everyone forgetting to mind their own business; partially because people think that because politics does have a part of everything people do (hence the etymology of the term), that it gives them the right to control others. Fascism is the end result.


>Sure you can. You can have an attitude of tolerance, of acceptance, and embrace different opinions/stances. Judge a little less, worry a little less about what others do.

Completely agreed on that point. In fact that's how politics should be discussed.

But if we consider politics to be "what should we do as a society?" then you can't avoid political discussions in those topics still, right? You can only seek to discuss such topics tolerantly and maturely, I think.


> Now try discussing any of these in depth "without politics".

The whole point is you don't have to discuss any of those in depth.


I will admit to having avoided arguing with one of my colleagues about whether it is irresponsible to have more than one child in the current state of the world (he thinks it is, and I have three kids).


I would generally find all of the above somewhat too pedestrian as topics, if they come up too often. Also, I've discussed all of the above at work with coworkers recently, and when things do veer into the political, they don't go too deep (though at my current job, we're free to be quite acerbic) and the conversation veers away to something else.

I guess we treat the avoiding taboo topics more like not driving on the lines, and less like driving over a minefield. We generally avoid for safety's sake, and don't expect things to blow up immediately if there is a bit of driving over the line.

(Hell, we even talk about guns and gun control!)


So you basically give them a West Coast virtue signaling strength test?


I don't think this is true anymore. Even war doesn't impact my life. We've been at war almost 20 years now and the only difference it's made in my life is airport trips are more annoying. And even if war did impact my life more directly, I don't see how discussing it at work would be helpful in any way.


Living in Europe and being a bit closer to the war zones, I can tell you it has affected my life in a large number of ways. It is a big reason why a lot of my voting in the US is for whoever seems more anti-war (within reason).


I also vote anti-war. Would you mind sharing some tangible examples of how it's affected your life? I'm not looking for a debate, I'm genuinely curious.


A few ways the wars have affected my life:

1. I was commuting between Sweden and Denmark when the refugee crisis (people fleeing our efforts at proxy civil war in Syria, and our efforts at direct war in Iraq and Afghanistan) caused the Swedes to have to close their borders. This was not controversial. Migrationverket could not house the number of refugees who showed up and so refugees were sleeping on the street in Sweden in November. This lead to hours of lost time every day and eventually the loss of a contract that lead to the commute, and eventually after that, to a stagnation in my work (I left Sweden for Germany in part for that reason). You would see whole families with nothing trying to get somewhere they would have some sort of chance.

2. My kids have been subject to some harassment due to the fact that they are mixed SE Asian/White, and therefore could probably pass for Afghan. This was true in both Sweden and Germany.

3. Now the lines to get things like work permits or blue cards renewed are getting longer and longer (because of capacity shortage in civil servants) which means that when I go to get this renewed, I need to plan six months to a year in advance. A large problem here is the fact that the refugees are impacting the immigration service departments. Its to the point I am considering giving up US citizenship for German citizenship just to get around that problem.

There are of course more. Not getting into the amusing problem Sweden has with hand grenades and plastic explosives (organized crime gangs scaring each other late at night by setting off bombs and grenades, though I suppose that's better than drive-by shootings).


I'm sorry that your kids have been harassed. It's very hard to watch it happen to them. My son is 6 years old, non-verbal, and diagnosed with autism. In my son's case, how do I explain bigotry (and he clearly feels it)? In your kids' case, they may understand the explanation, but still struggle to reconcile the feeling.


Yeah. In one of the worse incidents in Germany, to the credit of Germans, the majority of adults in the around came to my kids' defense. I tell them to try to be thankful for the culture of being helpful, but it was a hard thing for them.

For a long time my oldest hated Germany after that. I actually feel bad because both of being part of the Berlin tech boom that is causing rents to rise really fast (and price many Germans out of the city) and also for the fact that refugees are being used to undercut wages (I know of too many cases of refugees being paid under minimum wage to ignore that dynamic).

But that doesn't excuse ranting at my kids as they are walking down the street.


We have always been at war with Eastasia.


Why on earth are we at war with Estonia???

Oh wait. Nevermind.


Yes, nowadays attempting to “stay out of” politics simply leads to people accusing you of actively supporting the status quo. You can’t win, once a political culture has taken root around you.


I think you can accept or be neutral on the assertion that "the personal is political", without it entailing that you actually live in a state of political engagement. After all, the professional ought not be personal.


And the other thing is that the company may itself be actively involved in politics that some of its employees may object to. Google actively tries to control the political debate through youtube. Its positive discrimination policies may be considered by some of its employees as objectably discriminatory.

I can understand that the company will not tolerate anyone publicly disagreeing with its political stance but it is a natural thing for their employees to discuss the politics of their employer between them.

Though given the little tolerance of large companies for disagreeing their politics (not just in the Silicon Valley), the said employees would be well advised to not do so in writing.


> Good science is repeatable. Given that Google is arguably an intellectually friendly environment, where more people than average understand how to talk in ways that get closer to truth, the inadvertent experiment conducted by Google over the past 15 years or so should hold a lot of weight.

But what conclusion should be drawn from this experiment?

During those years, Google grew into a large and profitable company, with enormous impact on the world and technical community. One could argue that the lack of a traditional corporate culture was important for attracting the employees who made this possible.

Perhaps Google eventually grew to the point where this was no longer a positive factor -- but even knowing that, should they have done things differently in the early days?


You could look at message boards in the public space, Yammer, etc and draw the same conclusions. Online communities always have a critical mass where increasingly strong moderation is required.


Organizational structure is a massive influence on any organization's outputs, and seems over and over to be substantially more important than the personal attributes or credentials of the pool of employees. This is discussed by Clay Christensen in the context of disruption tech theory, it's enshrined in hacker lore as Conway's Law, and I'm sure is well known across many other domains.

One could interpret the overall trajectory of Google here as reaching the limits of disruption-capable organizational design. It's likely they hit that limit some years back, and have just reached the point where they've internalized it enough to drop the pretense.

It's not all bad -- there are many things at which large corporate structures excel. They're just not typically the ones that are sought in Silicon Valley.


I am not sure if google could have done that but there is always the realization to be made that small is beautiful. At some point growth turns into taking on more useless people and then you need more money to fund all of them and then you need to turn to unethical practices. Perhaps the google founders could at some point have decided to buy back as much of their stock as possible and after that they no longer would have needed to make as much money as possible and could have just kept having the greatest search engine with a little advertising on the side.


Yep, feels like there's a bias in here. The "big experiment" that is on our radar (which is supposedly proving that free culture is a liability after all) is only big and on our radar to discuss because it reached such success compared to other companies (and it grew under those same conditions we're maybe implying are being proved wrongheaded?)


> traditional cultural strictures against talking about money, politics, and religion

That is not a particularly widespread tradition globally or historically. And I personally think everyone should be incredibly skeptical of it.

I've never met anyone with power who followed this tradition, and plenty who are kept powerless by the always-one-sided application of these traditions.

These subjects are difficult to discuss because they are important, I find it far easier to believe that this toxicity comes from default of not talking to your family/friends/community about some of most important aspects of your life.


Another view might be that it's impolite or rude to bring it up.

Consider that other people might not want to talk about these things, and by bringing them up yourself, you're prompting others to share their own opinions, which they may not (for whatever reason) feel comfortable sharing.

There's also the reality that many of these conversations just aren't productive. Best-case scenario, one person talks, the other talks, maybe they learn a little about each other, or their mutual empathy is enhanced. But a lot of times, it seems like two otherwise civil people find out things about each other that actually degrades their relationship. "Too much information" is real and at 34, I've learned there are some questions that just aren't going to lead to a productive conversation, on balance.


The unproductive version is a big problem, precisely because people don't have the social skills to navigate it because it is so often taboo. So the options are to make it taboo or to adapt.

"don't speak about these important things, we don't have the EQ to handle this conversation" is a strong pro-status quo political stance to take and couching it in apolitical terms is dishonest.


I agree, rules that govern large organizations didn't grow out of "mean bosses doing mean stupid things" but out of need for such a large organization to work well together. But, while that is true, it doesn't necessarily mean people will like the new Google, everyone's got their own personal taste in how the work culture should be and regardless of having very rational reasons why the culture is changing in some way, people that enjoyed the previous culture are likely to not enjoy as much the new one, resulting in increased difficulties hiring and keeping them.


Similarly, as the size and footprint of a company grows, the parameters controlling/sustaining the growth/maintenance of said company also change as well, thus changing the required talent profile accordingly.

EDIT: for the sake of the completion of thought, I want to add that the opposite is also true: a young company in a fast growing innovative industry can afford to hire a different kind of talent without harming its growth, and as the industry matures, they simply can't afford to keep doing that.


This! All categories break down but many arise out of some reasonable necessity. The categories of "work life" and "personal life" are useful categories. I see no reason why I should discuss politics with someone I work with. It seems like a recipe for disaster.


I've almost always found it completely beneficial when workplaces discourage talking about politics or religion. Everyone just gets along better, and that's a good thing for a work environment


This. I've been saying for a long time now that 2010-era Google will be in business school textbooks for generations as an example of why we have a taboo against contentious issues in the workplace.

It's like the old demotivational poster said: "it might be the case that your purpose in life is to serve as a warning to others".


"A ship on the beach is a lighthouse to the sea" - Dutch proverb


I kinda wish this was about out of control religious debates.


Help me out here.

Do you mean "internal political" as "Oh man Jimmy is in charge of gmail now!" (just a made up example of internal politics there) or "Can you belive what the POTUS did!?!?!"?

If the latter, I'm a bit surprised ... I can't imagine having that kind of conversation at work. That is absolutely a NO GO zone for me at work.


Definitely the latter - people trying to convince others that their views on war, or abortion, or taxes, or political party are the correct ones.

These are also people who are intelligent, educated, and quite arrogant, so the fireworks were pretty spectacular.


And this was common workplace discussion!? This seems like a disaster waiting to happen. I don’t know why you’d want to introduce the divisiveness of politics to your workplace.


> And this was common workplace discussion!?

It must be US culture there: everywhere I've worked (in France) arguing about politics was always ok. Even fun when you get people of differing views who can explain how they came to those so you can debate. Things must be boring when you have to limit yourself to safe subjects.


Working class Americans talk about politics a lot. It's the professional and aristocratic types who care about decorum.


That's only a US thing. In the rest of the world (well, I can only speak for a few european countries) discussing politics is normal office chat. Why wouldn't you want to discuss current and thought-provoking issues with your peers?


I get the feeling people are much closer politically in other countries than they are here, which makes the debate a bit more polite. Remember, to half the US population if you voted for Trump you’re a Nazi. Not a lot of room for people to debate you in a serious manner or even think of you as a human being when those are the stakes involved.


Generally not out in the open, but on internal groups (message boards) or email chains. Keep in mind the vast majority of people working at Google don't care - the people looking to engage politically are a minority group and found each other on the intranet.


> a minority group and found each other on the intranet.

Interesting. When your company is big enough, the intranet becomes a community that mirrors the Internet in general...


I gotta admit I'd take a peek too to watch the fireworks.

But also a bit shocked how many people feel that participating is a good idea.


I'd maybe participate if it was some kind of... workplace-internal 4chan. An anonymous forum, but only available through an Enterprise SSO gateway.

Otherwise, yeah, that seems crazy.


Many moons ago I worked for a company that did some outsource work for another company who asked for responses to an anonymous survey.

So I responded.

1. I shouldn't have gotten the survey as I didn't work for the company who sent it, but nobody at either company was very smart or careful because it went to everyone.

2. I misread the email and didn't notice it wasn't my company asking for responses it was the company we did outsource work for.

I made some pretty tepid constructive criticism. So did a couple other people.

The next day we were in a conference room with people we never met before angry that we responded to the survey. They hadn't realized we were actually sent the email just like everyone at the company (like I said these were not smart people) ...

It also raised the question about how anonymous this survey was. Of course it wasn't, you could see in the URL when responding your name, email address, etc ;)


I believe saying ‘this survey is anonymous’ should be illegal if it really isn’t.


I hope google provided free popcorn as well as free lunches.


It'd be more reasonable (though still not a great idea) if that were water cooler talk. So the biggest possible incident is a handful of people.

When it's conversation forums with thousands of people...critical mass is achieved, and it runs amok.


I try to keep the latter out of work-related mail, slack, etc, but I've had plenty of political discussions over coffee and lunch, and nobody ever seemed any the worse off for it.

I suspect an important factor is that these happen in smaller groups that know each other better, beyond individual views.

I was appalled that one of my foreign born, non-Christian, non-Caucasian co-workers voted for Bush 43 and listened to Rush Limbaugh, but having known him for years, I did not reduce him to that single aspect of his life.


Your observation that small groups that are already friends having differing points of view does not make them "the other" in your mind, may well be the opposite of (Political) Twitter, which may well be why that ends up being such a dumpster fire.

Q: You mention that you were 'appalled'. Did either of you take the time to explore your presumptions behind your reasons for coming to differing conclusions (while realizing the humans are 'rationalizing creatures', not 'rational creatures')?


Good question. We discussed this a bit, and my impression was that he (a) had somewhat negative opinions of muslims in general (although he got along fine with muslim co-workers — again, the phenomenon of knowing somebody protecting against "othering" them) (b) did not hold his political views very strongly, but partially saw politics as entertainment (he also listened to Michael Savage) (c) somewhat felt that when Limbaugh and Savage trashed foreigners, they could not possibly mean him.


Thanks for the detailed and sincere response.

I apologize upfront for not knowing who Mike Savage is, but it is my understanding that Limbaugh (who I don't listen to, so I could be wrong) is a guy that rudely declares that we should enforce border policies as written into regulations written by Congress?

That may not be true, but if it is, is that wrong-headed?

Edit: I have many loving/giving Muslim friends, and without their help I would not be alive today, but I am somewhat afraid of their "extremists" when I travel to Pakistan, or Qatar. I don't think I'm a hater, but maybe I am?


> it is my understanding that Limbaugh is a guy that rudely declares that we should enforce border policies as written into regulations written by Congress?

I'm somewhat conflicted in my thinking on border enforcement, and I do think it should, in general, exist, but that's far from the core and the tone of his argument, I think. He also declares that Mexicans in general are lazy (regardless of the legality of their status): https://www.huffpost.com/entry/rush-limbaugh-attacks-mexican...

and has a long history of racist comments: https://newsone.com/16051/top-10-racist-limbaugh-quotes/

> I am somewhat afraid of [Muslim] "extremists" when I travel to Pakistan, or Qatar.

My colleague did in fact come from a country where Muslim extremism was a thing. For your travels, I would certainly share your concern in Pakistan, but I don't really think there is an objective basis for it in the case of Qatar:

https://tradingeconomics.com/united-states/terrorism-index https://tradingeconomics.com/pakistan/terrorism-index https://tradingeconomics.com/qatar/terrorism-index


Anyone that thinks Mexicans are lazy have never worked beside them.

But, one size does not fit all. My anecdotes to that effect are surely not data.

But my friends of Mexican descent (Americans) don't like uncontrolled migration because of the (perceived?) downward pressure on wages for unskilled labor.

EDIT: That last point was also anecdotal. My gut feel (intuition) is largely driven by my experience. I do not claim that this experience is global or globally correct.


It is the second kind, and in addition to the multitude of dedicated political discussion boards it is also very popular at the social forums like memegen and google plus. I was a bit shocked by this when I started but I got used to it, now I just filter it out.


The latter was very common (googler 2012-2019)


I understand your perspective but I'm honestly very surprised given your example. I'm in Canada and the things Trump does and says are still present in conversations nearly every day.


I believe it. I was always amazed that Canadians seemed more interested in US politics than their own politics.


We're bombarded with it 24/7. It also seems weirder and therefore more notable. Canadian politics is boring by comparison.


>I'm in Canada and the things Trump does and says are still present in conversations nearly every day.

I'm not sure what you mean but generally in my life... I actually don't have a lot of "political" conversations every day. More often than not, none at all.


As in simply something like going to the dentist or getting a haircut, politics comes up because at least in my lifetime and most peoples there's never been a President (and certainly not Prime Minister in Canada) doing the things that Trump is doing. Peoples lives, families and affairs have been affected for many who travel to the United States as an example and the discussions of what he's saying and doing permeate work and non-work environments.


Some people can handle civil discussion with people of differing values, and some people can't.

I wonder what the difference is, I mean beyond just painting someone who can't as a jerk.

I think it has to do with learned skills of emotional self-regulation... someone with those skills is better able to hold their perspective while allowing that of another. But how does one learn that?

It might have to do with safety. I suspect that the people that are better able to have those kind of civil discussions have had good behavior modeled to them in the past, that has increased their own sense of safety, like from someone else in a position of power that has demonstrably respected their opinion even when they held different values.

Could that be the krux of it, that most "uncivil behavior" in this realm is from people that are reacting from a sense of danger, like that if they meet a person with differing values they automatically believe they are being threatened? (Recognizing that sometimes that belief is correct.)

I also wonder if there's a universal central reason behind why it is important to understand someone else's argument if their conclusion differs than yours.


There are deeply important and therefore difficult to talk about.

I totally agree that what it requires are those types of emotional skills, and getting them takes practice.

This tradition of avoiding ever getting practice seems absurd to me, and it also very much benefits those already in power (and they are not unaware of this fact).


> I also wonder if there's a universal central reason behind why it is important to understand someone else's argument if their conclusion differs than yours.

In fact, if you can't argue for their side as well as they can, you haven't really understood it, so you shouldn't argue.


I'd agree with the first two parts, but one can argue a fully reasoned argument without understanding all possible conflicting arguments. At least in the terms of normative arguments, where values (premises) can differ from person to person.


I agree again. A big cause of useless arguments is both sides having different unstated goals.


While I absolutely agree that there are people of all political beliefs who have major problems with remaining civil, I think we sometimes have an unfair standard. If someone is dealing with people who just want to spread hate and have no interest in having an open-minded discussion or ever changing their views, and that person then betrays even a hint of frustration, they are often immediately slammed for becoming impolite and uncivil. (Note: I'm not saying there's no line here, just that I believe the line is sometimes drawn in the wrong place).

However, the person being toxic is often not criticized at all because they were spreading their hateful views "politely," if such a thing is possible. So while I believe there is nothing to be gained from getting angry in a political discussion, I do think we should give people a bit of a break if they understandably become frustrated when dealing with actual white nationalists/neo-Nazis/incels saying rape should be legal/etc.


Yes, I do think it's far easier for someone to phrase toxic and hateful views in a civil manner, than it is for someone to hear it and respond in a civil manner.

I wonder though if there's a conflation here between dealing with the argument itself, and dealing with all the social realities of being subjected to the person making it - how threatening they appear, how connected their beliefs are to impending action, how confrontative the exchange is, etc. Like, it's totally fair to believe that the person making the argument is dangerous, and respond emotionally from that. It doesn't mean that it's the argument itself that is being responded to - the argument might instead be evidence of impending dangerous behavior, which is different. It also doesn't mean that the argument itself is dangerous - the danger might entirely come from the circumstances, like if the argument is being used as a physical threat.

Like, I don't know, imagine it's Joyce Brothers making the hateful argument, from her hospital bed with a cocktail in her hand. It might be easier to engage with the argument in that case - to determine if it's based off of incorrect facts, bad reasoning, or just hateful premises that can't be challenged.


It boils down to whether they believe that all ideas are worth having, discussing about and of equal value to a "free" society and should therefore be openly discussed or whether only their specific subset of ideas are allowed and everything else thought-crime.

Hell, believe it or not, I've heard people say that it should be illegal to be fascist for example. Of course these people should be ridiculed.


Discussing politics at work is a huge liability. With the recent surge of outrage culture I’m not willing to put my job on the line to prove a point. I engage in discussion, but only online and anonymously.


This doesn't sound like freedom, look what the western society turned into. Interesting times we live in.


Similar argument to people that think they should be allowed to smoke anywhere. I can't stand people that talk about politics. It's worse noise pollution than that scene from Dumb and Dumber (hey Lloyd, want to hear the most annoying sound in the world?)

I'm sorry, but I don't think having to listen to co-workers ram their ill-thought-out opinion down my throat is "freedom."


Your ability to create the ontology of “What is political” versus “What is not political” classification is one of privilege.

“Food isn’t political” is only “not political” for someone who is well fed and not concerned about where their next meal is coming from.

Everything is political.


> What seems to be happening a lot lately is that politics are spilling over into large, global mailing lists

Interestingly there are people in this very thread claiming "everything is politics."


Hilariously too, they're agreeing with Rush Limbaugh: https://www.rushlimbaugh.com/daily/2014/08/05/everything_is_...


No they're agreeing with early 20th century communist theorists like Marx. The left has always biased toward the idea that social interaction is politics. And "politics" is just the micro social politics playing out on a grander scale. It's just easier to ignore those things when you're in (relative) power, since, as a straight person, you aren't directly affected by the ability of gay people to marry, or whatever.

Limbaugh was just agreeing with the communists. Oops?


Not sure why your comment is getting down voted.


The toxic echo chamber was one of the worst things about working at Google. The pinnacle was being peer forced to walk out during one of the recent outrage events - how can you possibly be the only person on the team to not walk out? To make things worse, you find yourself stuck in public expected to chant anti-capitalist, anti-police, and anti-male slurs during what was supposed to be a #MeToo march, which felt absolutely gross.

The fact that they are starting to crack down on this toxic environment is long overdue. My guess is that they are starting to see tangible attrition of top performers (who happen to be predominantly white & asian males) quoting this as a reason to leave, which threatens their existence. Hence the change.


What has your experience been in places outside of Google? I've worked in a couple of non-FAANG companies over the years and politics never enters into the conversation. People just agree not to discuss controversial political stuff except may out over a beer or something.


That seems largely fair enough. I’ve pushed back before on conversations that make an assumption about the audience, suggesting to redirect them to the place where people have explicitly opted into that kind of stuff.

In that sense it’s not really about the politics, it’s just seeing the world outside of your own.

In almost every other case we’re okay with this. In a lot of contexts irrelevant discussion is called ‘taking it offline’.


> What seems to be happening a lot lately is that politics are spilling over into large, global mailing lists which target a whole geographic region, so many people get involved, and when a company has 200k employees and contractors, you will find some outliers in there who will pick nasty fights.

Really good point here. One could argue the same for society as a whole - not just companies with global mailing lists.


I'd say the same would happen in pretty much every other company. Political discussions are very hard to have outside work and it is 10 times worse at it. Most of the time it's either echo chamber or free ride for all without any considerations.


May I ask: how much did that environment contribute to you deciding to leave in 2013?


>> It's a bit disappointing to hear, since I personally enjoyed the occasional, honest discussion with smart people

That can still happen, maybe just not on a huge mailing list? :p


In most states, political discussion in the work place is considered illegal. California has some odd laws though that protect people from this.


In which states? I've never heard of an instance where any state legislature passed a rule that forbids employees from discussing politics. I'm surprised there wouldn't be massive outrage over it.


Let me make my statement a little bit more clear.

There is no federal law that prevents employer discrimination based on political beliefs. There are some states, specifically California in this case, that prevent employers from discrimination based on political activities and/or affiliations. However, most states prevent employers from controlling political activities outside of work

The First Amendment does not apply to private institutions, only public ones. Private institutions can outright ban political discussion with no repercussions and cannot be liable for termination on the grounds of political beliefs expressed within the workplace sans some states.

So while it isn't "illegal", it can be restricted within private companies.


I think you're confused. It's definitely not illegal in any state to have informal political discussions with coworkers. Maybe what you're referring to is that it's illegal for employers to tell employees to vote a certain a way or retaliate against them for holding certain political views.


Only in some states is this legally protected. If a private company allows it, then there is no problem.

However, most private companies don't allow political discussion and it's not illegal to control this unless you live in certain states, California being one of them.

Explanation in detail here: https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/can-employers-discri...


Two odd laws, actually. The federal and state constitutions.


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