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I Was Google’s Head of International Relations (medium.com)
815 points by sleepyshift 20 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 297 comments



Performance evaluations are subjectivity masquerading as objectivity.

> In each of these cases, I brought these issues to HR and senior executives and was assured the problems would be handled. Yet in each case, there was no follow up to address the concerns — until the day I was accidentally copied on an email from a senior HR director. In the email, the HR director told a colleague that I seemed to raise concerns like these a lot, and instructed her to “do some digging” on me instead.

Then, despite being rated and widely known as one of the best people managers at the company, despite 11 years of glowing performance reviews and near-perfect scores on Google’s 360-performance evaluations, and despite being a member of the elite Foundation Program reserved for Google’s “most critical talent” who are “key to Google’s current and future success,” I was told there was no longer a job for me as a result of a “reorganization,” despite 90 positions on the policy team being vacant at the time.


>In each of these cases, I brought these issues to HR

Well there's your mistake. It's like going to the other guy's lawyer saying you're building a case against him. Better go for the jugular because they sure will.


I cannot not stress this enough. One of the things I do to mentor talent is to affirm two things:

First, the relationship is a merely a meeting of minds. If it's useful for you to be around and they find you useful to be around then you have a job. If that ever stops, it is irrelevant what the past is: you will be gone whether it is by your choice or not. At one point, labor unions were the means to fix companies, but that has long since passed in the U.S.

Second, the term "Human Resources" are perfectly named. A resource is something that is explored, extracted, exploited and expended. H.R. is not your friend. Their job is protect management's goals. You are a resource and fully replaceable.


> If it's useful for you to be around and they find you useful to be around then you have a job.

I do this as well, although I tend to put in in starker terms: the only reason that anyone is giving you a paycheck is because they are getting value in excess of the amount they're paying you. Your job will vanish the instant that value proposition changes. This means two important things:

1) There's no such thing as actual job security. Always have an escape plan.

2) Whatever amount of job security you can wrangle comes only when you consistently appear to be providing value in excess of your compensation.

Also, although I don't usually say this in relation to holding down a specific job, I try to make newcomers understand that nobody will care about what you did 20 years ago. It's what you did yesterday that matters.

What you say about HR is spot on as well. It seems obvious to me, but I'm frequently surprised that it's not obvious to everybody.


> the only reason that anyone is giving you a paycheck is because they are getting value in excess of the amount they're paying you

If by value you mean political value, yes. If by value you mean return to the company for the compensation, that has nothing to do with anything. If there is one thing I have learned in my storied career is that making your boss happy enough to defend your being there is all that matters. I have seen so much deadweight in a company keep their job merely because they were willing to tell their boss what they wanted to hear.

> Whatever amount of job security you can wrangle comes only when you consistently appear to be providing value in excess of your compensation

It took several years to convince my wife that my job security comes from being able to land a new job, not keeping it. I'm always working with new libraries and technologies, staying in-front of (or at least abreast of) what's currently hot. Recruiters are always trying to poach me. Amazingly enough, I landed in a job where I both get to keep my education going and implementing newer technology and my boss likes me. I am coming up on five years, but I know that could change at any moment if pressure were to come down from above.

> What you say about HR is spot on as well. It seems obvious to me, but I'm frequently surprised that it's not obvious to everybody.

Because it's not against the law for companies to lie to employees but it is against the law for you to lie to your companies. I've been in big companies and small companies. They all tell you H.R. is there to help you, to make things better, to work out issues. If you're someone the company wants, H.R. may even work on your behalf (after the manager approves). It really nails you sideways when you've had it good for years to then have the company suddenly turn on you. When you are made to feel as though you are unjustified for breathing in the company's air. It's a huge shock.


> If by value you mean political value, yes. If by value you mean return to the company for the compensation, that has nothing to do with anything.

I experienced this reality check in grad school when I summered as an associate project manager at one of the large U.S. automotive manufacturers. I sat in on hiring as well as meetings deciding a firing.

In one case, two final round candidates for a position were both female. Both were highly competent candidates with equally impressive resumes. The less attractive candidate performed markedly better though. I'll let you guess who was hired. (What was surreal was the discussion that took place when deciding between the candidates. Everyone wanted the more attractive candidate, but of course, saying so would be crazy. So, instead, the pretext became 'cultural fit'.)

In one case where someone was let go, the rational given was merely one that presented itself as a means to get rid of someone that a director had wanted to fire for awhile.


> Because it's not against the law for companies to lie to employees but it is against the law for you to lie to your companies.

Can you elaborate?


> only when you consistently appear to be providing value in excess of your compensation.

The word 'appear' should be bolded. I'll point out another thing which is the amount of effort needed to manage you is even more important than that.


> What you say about HR is spot on as well. It seems obvious to me, but I'm frequently surprised that it's not obvious to everybody.

Why is that? If you work at a company you enjoy and admire that treats you well and compensates you well, its quite natural for us as humans to feel invested in the thing.

You can't both try and empower employees to feel ownership while also making them feel wary. Which is exactly what Google is doing.


I think this adverse relationship only exists in the US, where you can be fired at the drop of a hat.

In a country with actual labor protections the way to protect the companies’ interest is often dramatically different.


So then do you believe that Google acts differently in other countries, and only (allegedly) conducts this abuse in the US?

Note: genuinely curious as to your viewpoint. Not sure what my own opinion is here yet...


Not necessarily that they want to act different, or even think different, just that they are constrained in the way they act by the law in the countries they operate.

In either the Netherlands or Japan (the two countries I have experience with), it either costs a lot of money, or is nearly impossible, respectively, to fire any permanent employee. So HR’s job would be much more focused on either getting the employee to leave of their own volition, or make sure their problem is resolved.


Well, Google legally can’t do a lot of things it does to workers in other countries that it does in the US...so yes? Labor protections in the US are absolutely atrocious compared to most of the European countries where they operate.


Hmm, in that case, it's not really Google's fault. They are following the law (maybe not in every single case, but if the protections in the US are more loose, then they can/will do things here they wouldn't do somewhere with stronger employee protection).


You can certainly be criticised for actions that are legal but harmful to others...

> If it's useful for you to be around and they find you useful to be around then you have a job.

I like how you separated those 2 points. At first glance, it seems redundant. However, like you say, it's not enough to be useful, you need to be perceived as useful, too.


I think most people tend to anthropomorphize the company and expect such issues would be solved "human to human". So they hesitate to escalate them into a war, which lawyering up first and asking questions later tends to do. In reality a company acts less like a human and more like a machine programmed to finish any fight in one blow and minimize exposure. Any "unfairness" is spread among too many people to burden their conscience, they do it for the company.

P.S. Is it me or did this post stay on the first page less than a discussion with no comments and barely a handful of votes [The Bones of Marianna]? It has at least 2-3 times more votes and comments than any topic on the front page in some of the shortest time yet it's relegated already to the bottom of the second page.


People flag posts like this all the time, sometimes out of loyalty to their employer or a general distaste for hearing from ex-employees, especially of companies they have an emotional connection to.


I suspect but have no professional qualification, that it's the same root as stockholm syndrome, in that there is a tendency to form emotional sympathetic bonds with entities strong enough to kill us in some sense, or at least exerting significant control over our lives.

The immense leverage a company has over an employee, especially when made clear, such as in layoffs or changes that are not conducive to the workforce enforced by management, leads people to rationalize this lack of security and control by creating control in the form of a narrative, that the company cares about them and they should recognize and respect that caring.


I think out propensity to anthropomorphise companies is pathological.

Most of the time it's a bunch of people following instructions/policy, like gears in a combine harvester. If you are in the way, you get run over.


it's relegated already to the bottom of the second page.

I am not suggesting it’s an organised voting ring or anything like that but it is noticeable that any anti-Google sentiment that gets upvoted in European or East Coast hours gets pounded as soon as the West Coast wakes up.


Doesn’t seem like that you - it is back on the front page but low given the number of votes and comments.


It took me a while of hearing every single story of a colleague or friend who went to HR to point out a problem with the company being moved out of the company to realize that HR was not your friend, or your advocate. Their only concern was keeping the company from being successfully sued. All of their activities speak to that mandate.

The only way you fix something like this at the executive level is to develop leverage on another executive who can change things and then using that to make them do so.

It is sad. It is wrong. It is dysfunctional. But as far as I can tell the only people that survive these sorts of things are the ones that "play dirty."

Personally, I value my integrity over this kind of gamesmanship and just move on to some other company when I can.


As a manager at a company that I believe is sincere about its message that I am required to report harassment and discrimination even if the aggrieved party does not specifically come to me or want me to (they say it’s required by law), I wonder what the actual outcome of doing so would be.

Legally I believe companies cannot retaliate in those two circumstances (harassment and discrimination), but of course nobody is going to enforce that outside of the expense and hassle of suing them if they do actually retaliate.

Any advice for this circumstance?


document, document, document.


That sounds like how Damore says he was treated. If nothing else, these scandals have taught us about how Google's HR works at high levels.


Given the way employment law in the US works, it is HR's responsibility, in general, to ensure the paperwork is in order if an employee needs to be fired.

And yes, absolutely, even large publicly-traded companies still have bosses that will fire employees because "it isn't working out" (which is the aggregate signal in the neural net with inputs such as "I don't like this person," "I think my job is harder because the company employs this person," "I believe this person's presence at the company is bad for the company," etc.). The difference between large and small companies is that large companies have more to lose if a termed employee lawyers up (and more likelihood a termed employee will lawyer up, because more lawyers will be willing to take a case that has a big-name defendant in the case name).

This is yet another scenario where the question "What are the incentives of the actors in this story" can be applied.


> it is HR's responsibility, in general, to ensure the paperwork is in order if an employee needs to be fired

It is also HR's responsibility to step in when someone fills a room with employees of one race and asks others to repeat stereotypes to them. Or, to ensure the company follows whistleblower statute.


They did step in, by determining firing the tattletale was less than the cost of trying to fix the problem. Reminds me of a classic fight club quote

should we initiate a recall? Take the number of vehicles in the field, A, multiply by the probable rate of failure, B, multiply by the average out-of-court settlement, C. A times B times C equals X. If X is less than the cost of a recall, we don't do one.



Recall reminds me of the 737 Max


> Given the way employment law in the US works, it is HR's responsibility, in general, to ensure the paperwork is in order if an employee needs to be fired.

I would submit that this is really their ONLY job. As in “you had only one job”.


How all HR works: protect the company, cut out the person that reported the problem.

You are always taking a big EV- gamble if you actually believe that HR is there to help you. If you experience adversity at work there is no help for you, income is the EV+ bet.


What does "income is the EV+ bet" mean in this context?


positive expected value means it is more probable that you make money in the future, so staying employed and having income is EV+. negative expected value means it is more probable that you lose money in the future, so not having income is EV-.




This is 4th blog post in a sequence and I have not yet read the whole thing - but it looks like it is spot on: https://thezvi.wordpress.com/2019/12/31/does-big-business-ha...


That's definitely worthy of submitting as it's own thread.

Hearing about "Pournelle’s iron law of bureaucracy" was particularly chilling.


Regarding the "do some digging" task, I expect that obliges HR to go out and talk to people in order to solicit dirt (I mean ask for feedback outside the normal performance review channel) on the target.


If you ever need to lawyer up against a company it would be very wise to have your lawyer do “discovery” on any email any manager has written about you. This should be standard advice to all employees.


Why do you think companies in the US have instituted a "delete emails after 6 months/1 year" policy ?


It's wild that this continual destruction of evidence is not only tolerated but SOP. It's just so convenient! Imagine if commit messages disappeared after 6mo!


There is probably a desire to make commit messages go away after 6 months. I am guessing that the lawyers aren't putting much pressure on engineering teams because nobody has thought to "discover" commit messages in a major case yet (whereas email is routine).


Well, the alternative is for every last written thing at a company--jokes, gripes, mistakes--to be scrutinized and taken out of context in court by an opposing side's legal team.


It's wild that this continual destruction of evidence is not only tolerated but SOP.

I bet it’s still on the backup tapes. So when slapped with a court order it will be an order of magnitude more expensive for them to disclose.


You destroy the encryption keys to those backups, not the data itself. This is a problem that has long been solved.


Why?


In the article it’s explained that he only found out accidentally but I’ll bet it’s pretty common.


This is HUGE smoking gun...


” At a different all-hands meeting, the entire policy team was separated into various rooms and told to participate in a “diversity exercise” that placed me in a group labeled “homos” while participants shouted out stereotypes such as “effeminate” and “promiscuous.” Colleagues of color were forced to join groups called “Asians” and “Brown people” in other rooms nearby.”

Wow this literally sounds like an episode of The Office (S1 E2)

Definitely not the most damning thing in this article but the one that really jumped out for me.

Can’t even wrap my mind around why someone thought this would be a good idea


I did some googling on this and this exercise is recommended by organizations such as University of Houston's "Center for Diversity and Inclusion". More details given below.

We can have a fun discussion on whether such activities are constructive. But it seems very unfair to paint Google as a prejudiced organization for carrying out a diversity exercise that is explicitly recommended by organizations who specialize in this field. The fact that this exercise was cherry-picked and presented without context, makes me wonder what else in the article is being painted in an unfair light.

https://www.uh.edu/cdi/diversity_education/resources/activit...

https://www.uh.edu/cdi/diversity_education/resources/activit...

"Come up with list of groups that we have stereotypes about (AfricanAmerican, gays/lesbians, disabled people, athletes, women, etc). You can tailor this to the class.

2. Divide the class into small groups and give each group one of the above categories.

3. On big paper, let the groups generate all the stereotypes they can think of for that group (encourage them to be honest, say what they hear about these groups). Then discuss (and list) the source of that stereotype, how it's reinforced, and the effect it has"

4. Let each group put up their paper and read their stereotypes and the other categories to the group.

5. End with a large group discussion of what they can do to end stereotyping (i.e. educate themselves, take courses, get to know members of the group, join an organization, etc)."


> it seems very unfair to paint Google as a prejudiced organization for carrying out a diversity exercise that is explicitly recommended by organizations who specialize in this field

The site [1] says the "diversity exercises listed below are geared toward college students, faculty and staff." Out the door, they're being mis-applied.

The PDF [2] is attributed to the "Office of First-Year Programs Northern Kentucky University". No names, let alone specialists.

For an organization (Google) claiming to be scientific about its decision making, they seem to have misapplied a program with a propensity for being abused, put it in the hands of someone without "a background or expertise in facilitating exercises that may be culturally sensitive," and retaliated against individuals who complained.

This is worth calling out.

[1] https://www.uh.edu/cdi/diversity_education/resources/activit...

[2] https://www.uh.edu/cdi/diversity_education/resources/activit...


You're right, that's a good call out. I'm certainly not well-versed enough to know the nuances between diversity training intended for University staff vs Google staff. My first instinct is that "college staff" covers a very generic and broad set of workplaces, hence why it seems reasonably applicable to Google's workplace as well. But I might certainly be mistaken.

I was mostly responding to the parent comment which stated: "Can’t even wrap my mind around why someone thought this would be a good idea". I'm not endorsing this exercise myself. But given the above source and purpose, I can wrap my mind around why a reasonable well-intentioned person might think this was a good idea.


1) You selected one PDF from one organization, that has no visible attribution to anyone, generalized that to "recommended by academics", and based on that questioned the light of the rest of the post.

This is poor reasoning.

2) You uncritically examined the diversity activity. There is a large difference between deftly running an activity like this and horribly running an activity like this. The undertones of the original post is that this was handled poorly.

I would hope that here on HN, people would recognize that uncritically accepting 'best practices' or making an 'appeal to authority' is insufficient.


1) Yes, I selected an organization that is explicitly aiming to facilitate diversity and inclusion in professional workplaces. You appear to have completely misunderstood the chain of reasoning here. I did not claim that the above exercise is constructive. Rather, my claim is that this is the exercise recommended by at least some organizations that specialize in promoting diversity and inclusion.

> You uncritically examined the diversity activity

Your post assumes that the people running the organization are capable of critically examining diversity and inclusion related matters. Sometimes, people are best off acknowledging that something is completely outside of their area of expertise, and deferring to the advice given by specialists. I certainly do this very frequently, when it comes to advice given by my doctors or lawyers.

If you wish to critically examine any and all advice you come across, more power to you. But you don't get to call someone out for being prejudiced when they are literally following the advice given to them by specialists who are trying to promote diversity and inclusion.

> There is a large difference between deftly running an activity like this and horribly running an activity like this. The undertones of the original post is that this was handled poorly.

There is no details or explanation in the article whatsoever, providing support to the conclusion that the activity was run horribly or poorly, and not simply following the exercise instructions given. I would hope that here on HN, people would avoid jumping to conclusions based purely on conjecture.


Hi, I understand that this can be a hot button issue, and I know when that happens to me I sometimes misread or I am hasty in my response. Perhaps that's what has happened with your response here. I took a few minutes to read your posts again, set them aside, re-read them, and am now responding. I hope to not misrepresent your words.

You did not engage with my first point. I agree that sometimes people are best off deferring to experts. In this case, we have no idea who that is. The University of Houston is far too generic. I would want to know are any of these people Black, Indigenous, or People of Color (BIPoC)? If so, does they or their viewpoint match up with other specialists in this field? ^Getting a map of the territory and vetting your resources are absolutely things anyone should be capable of doing, especially anyone at an organization of Google's scale and with its resources.

"you don't get to call someone out for being prejudiced when they are literally following the advice given to them by specialists" 1) I did not call you prejudiced. You seem to have inferred that. 2) In the general sense, if someone is wrong/prejudiced/racist, it doesn't matter who the advice is coming from, it can and should in fact be point out so that it can be learned from.

As for your last quote of mine--I said "undertones" and you ignored that. Perhaps your inference based on the author's writing is different. Based on my experience, I read those undertones as a diversity exercise done poorly.


Hi, I appreciate the response. I agree with you that I know very little about University of Houston or its Center for Diversity and Inclusion. FWIW, it is one of the top results when I google for "diversity exercise", but make of that what you will.

My larger point is not that the exercise is great and should continue to be used. My larger point is that the exercise is something that a reasonable and well-intentioned person could have chosen, in a sincere effort to promote diversity and inclusion. This seems to be a point worth making, given the parent comment of "can’t even wrap my mind around why someone thought this would be a good idea".

When I first read the linked article, I had a similar shocked reaction. Knowing the origin of the exercise, and its purposes, is very valuable context that the original article should ideally acknowledge.


> But you don't get to call someone out for being prejudiced when they are literally following the advice given to them by specialists who are trying to promote diversity and inclusion.

Wait, why not? Why is this appeal to authority iron clad? Why is this authority better than any other? If I claim to be a "specialist[] who [is] trying to promote diversity" and I am doing bigoted things, where does that leave my authority?

I don't believe defending an appeal to authority by asserting that your authority is correct is a sound line of reasoning.


> But you don't get to call someone out for being prejudiced when they are literally following the advice given to them by specialists who are trying to promote diversity and inclusion.

"Just following orders" does not absolve one of responsibility.

If I "listen" to the advice of a specialist to call an African American the n-word, and then I scream the n-word repeatedly in front of others, then those people have the right to call me prejudiced. The onus is on me to prove my lack of prejudice, not on my accusers. The alternative is enabling racial supremacists to hurl vitriol so long as they "do a bit of Googling" and supply a PDF that says "expert says epithets are ok!"

Do you know the difference between authority and morality?


In a court of law, if someone sues over the scenario you've described, appeal to authority is exactly how a defendant would argue that what they did isn't considered racist and therefore doesn't violate the law.

To understand the pathological behavior if megacorporations, look to the law under which they operate.


Then you would have been willing to risk your job (as it was implied to have an element of accountability) AND you think you have an established ethic that would reject this exercise. That is a rare position and quality, which should give you pause. ie Not everyone is you.


> You uncritically examined the diversity activity

That's also how a company trying to do its best to cover the sometimes ambiguous intent of diversity law will often interface to academia, so it's a fair approach in this context.

(Remember, critically examining a diversity activity rather than doing what academia guides as best practice can open a company up to more liability than the opportunity to "defer to authority" on the topic. "We didn't, in our opinion, think this approach was best so we trusted our guts and didn't do it" is a much worse defense in a labor-practices case than "We followed the program as set forth in such-and-such university's diversity exercise policy handbook").


>That's also how a company trying to do its best to cover the sometimes ambiguous intent of diversity law will often interface to academia, so it's a fair approach in this context.

Agree that it provides cover for an org to defer to experts and best practices.

Hard disagree on the "fair approach" part. An outside individual examining this activity can be better than an organization simply trying to cover its legal bases.


"It seems very unfair to paint Google as a prejudiced organization for carrying out a diversity exercise that is explicitly recommended by academics who work in this field."

Yeah and the guy who invented the lobotomy was awarded a Nobel Prize. Following the advice of academics is not a license to take off your ethics hat.


License, no.

... but it makes for great legal cover.


And that's all this training is about: legal cover. One of many kubuki theatrics one must engage in as a corporate drone.


This is just the following orders excuse, but with more institutions participating.


As much hay is made of "just following orders" being no excuse, one sees it made so often because it does work, depending on the context.

(In a sense, it even worked in the Nuremberg trials---basically everyone tried was executed, but the entirety of the German army and the civilian populace who supported the Nazi party were not, even though they, too, were "just following orders").


It would be more honest if they all said, "we weren't thinking."

I think they would have even been acquitted on the charges of criminal conspiracy if they used that argument.


Surely you don't think they went through the trouble of having this diversity exercise in order to encourage discrimination? This is a case of someone who's trying to reduce bigotry being stupid, not unethical.


I think the scholarly consensus is that the blue-eyes-brown-eyes exercise, at least as applied to adults, is of limited value and might in fact be net harmful: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jane_Elliott#Academic_research...

(It would make sense to me that this exercise is helpful in a time and context where people are open about segregation, and you want to train children out of absorbing it from their culture. Corporate diversity training is a wholly different context: if you have employees who do not already believe that segregation is bad and do not actively want to prevent unjust discrimination, fire them or at least prevent them from managing or interviewing people. No hour-long training is going to make your racist boss suddenly realize that racism is bad.)

This exercise seems like a much more extreme form of it, where you're encouraging people to say stereotypes about actual people who are in the room. Is there any academic study saying that it works? Or is this just something on a .edu website?

(And aren't there studies showing that if you make people listen to stereotypes of a group they belong to being unintelligent, they'll perform worse on standardized tests?)


The "blue-eyes/brown-eyes" experiment was essentially a lighter variation on the better-known "Robbers' Cave Experiment" in psychology. You arbitrarily divide people into two groups, like "blue-eyed folks" and "brown-eyed folks" (in other words, the arbitrariness is quite overt and visible) and then look at how conflict and cooperation play out between the two groups. That's a far cry from what happened during OP's "diversity training" exercise.

(It turns out that conflict won't necessarily arise in that kind of situation, but that it's exceedingly easy for a bad actor (such as the experimenter herself) to manipulate the groups into hating each other. Reference https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/apr/16/a-real-life-... )


>"carrying out a diversity exercise that is explicitly recommended by organizations who specialize in this field."

It doesn't matter that the exercise is recommended or designed by specialists in the "field" when the entire "field" is wrong-headed and backwards in the first place.

The field of diversity studies (grievance studies) serves only to divide and exacerbate the very problems it identifies while ignoring actual solutions.

The justification for the field and its methods consists of a set of assumptions that are intently racist, sexist and divisive. This is bad enough, but then the internal logic guiding the field, built upon these initial assumptions, is weak at best.

Ultimately the diversity mafia is able to throw its weight around unimpeded because people are afraid that if they criticize it or its methods they will be slandered as racist or sexist. It is driven by the clear benefits it gives to people who can claim membership in certain classes, so of course they have a clear incentive to endorse and spread its divisive and unproductive rhetoric and methods.


To me, the issue here isn't (just) that someone felt extremely uncomfortable with a diversity exercise - it's the way their concerns were handled. Rather than empathizing with the person and learning from the experience, HR ignored the person's discomfort, and chose to "do some digging" on them instead.


Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) exercises are designed to make you feel uncomfortable because coaches believe discomfort is evidence of your "DEI muscles" being exercised. The thinking is that you cannot change your attitudes, opinions, and behaviors unless you can first become uncomfortable.


Causing discomfort in a respectful way is one thing. Causing discomfort by encouraging employees to call someone racist and homophobic names is a very different thing.

But again, the main point isn't the diversity exercise. It's the way his complaint about the exercise was handled.


The best-practice seems to indicate assigning people randomly to groups so they can examine their own biases. This instance at Google was to assign people to their own stereotypes so they can wallow in it? Not the same thing, is it?


We lack evidence that's what happened.

If you assign people randomly to labels that are supposed to be disjoint from their attributes (but you use the pejorative names of real attributes), there's a non-zero chance you'll randomly assign someone to the group named by the pejorative version of an attribute they have.


Whether it works or not it's a psychological manipulation, and it should be unacceptable to force it on people. Absolutely dystopian.


I'm interested to read more about these programs. I confess that superficially they seem ridiculous to me. Is there a link that you are aware of to the research underlying these activities?


Making a list of prejudices against particular groups and discussing their negative effects sounds beneficial. Shouting out a bunch of derogatory stereotypes with no consideration or discussion does not. How these things are handled matters and how failures to handle these things well is then handled also matters.


It's about "identity." For someone like me, the concept consists of bits like favorite ice cream flavor, what kinds of pets does someone like, how they respond to various holidays, how they might feel at a party with unfamiliar people, how they felt the first time they struck an animal while driving, when and what kinds of tips do they leave when nobody is looking ... character is who you are in the dark, and I am interested in the little things that distinguish people from one another.

For others, identity has been deconstructed into a series of theoretically independent (believe it or else) variables where each option is totally okay. Gender, sexual orientation, racial or ethnic background, physical disabilities, mental "challenges," and so on, along the axes of oppression. That's how people divide out for that bunch of folks and apparently, you had better play along. The "I know you don't like to ask questions" bit is bleakly ironic.


addressing your specific point (and note: ignoring the submitted article): I think everyone wants to think of themselves the way you want to define identity. It's a great model and I think of myself that way too.

However not everyone has the opportunity to be thought of that way by others. When you say "axis of oppression" well, that's a loaded term for an odious situation, but that odious situation really exists. Who you may choose to sleep with is none of my business unless 1 - one of us wants to go out with the other or 2 - you are a friend/colleague and get married or have some other life event for which I can be glad for you. That's not how the world actually works, so calligraphies attention to it helps those of us who are not (say) gay appreciate the difficulty others have and try not to make things worse (at least that's the hope).

The existence of oppression doesn't make you some sort of oppressor, but don't you want to have sympathy for your fellow humans? We are all at a disadvantage some of the time.

I"ve literally been on both sides: I was born in a country where I was legally of the wrong hereditary background. When I came to the US I was magically received as "a white guy". That's great: I get to define myself by ice cream preferences etc and I see nothing wrong with that. I notice I get a pass for certain screw ups and am taken more seriously than, say, my far more educated girlfriend. Do I wring my hands over it? Certainly not! But I do recognise that not everyone gets the same chance.


I register on more than one of those axes. You likely did not consider that, or if it did, you didn't factor in.

It isn't about sympathy, it is about looking at a person as more than the just the fill-in-the-blanks set of labels. People aren't just some combination of tick marks in the privileged-or-not checklist. Saying that someone who who chooses to view the world as more than that necessarily lacks sympathy is ... kind of crappy.

And yet here we see people (in the article, which is what we are discussing) reduced to just "homos" or "Brown people." People are more than that.


"However not everyone has the opportunity to be thought of that way by others."


In this day and age, who thinks that "homos" is a good label to use? And this is at Google, holy crap. How does a place that I'd expect to be filled to the brim with forward thinking techies even hire a person who thought this was a good idea?


Also, how would they know who to put in the "homo room?" How were people assigned? Did a senior executive walk up and down the hall, looking in offices, and going "gay, black, gay, gay, asian..." Something has to have been left out of the story, this is way too crazy to ever happen.


The intent was probably to expose people to prejudices they don't usually experience with their cis/white/male/wealthy selves.

In which case one would have wanted to have those people roleplay as minority identities.

The writeup's phrasing is definitely weird, if accurate. Not sure why people of color would need to be exposed to what it's like to be treated as "brown people"?

Then again... given the logic behind most HR training, I'd be unsurprised if someone misunderstood diversity training guidelines and instead tried to put people in "their groups." facepalm


"People of color" is the modern "black" (African heritage), and excludes dark skin colors from other locales. "Brown people", weird as it sounds as a phrase, is broader and includes dark-skinned groups like Middle-Eastern, but I think arbitrarily excludes Asian.


Really? I'm not sure that narrow of a definition is the commonly used one.

Wikipedia has it as even broader than my use: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Person_of_color

I've generally heard it as either "non-white", "non-white, with emphasis on 'brown' skin tones", or "non-white and not covered by a more specific group" in common real world use, depending on the context.


My suspicion is that the exercise is to allocate people randomly to these groups. Not based on their actual ethnicity / inclinations.

This article doesn't actually contradict that, since random selection will put some in their "appropriate" category.

So, either that, or the person conducting the exercise totally misunderstood it.


I mean, the article author is openly partnered and in a same-sex marriage... I'd assume members of the policy group he leads know he's gay.


That doesn't tell us how he was assigned to that group. It might have been a dice roll. Or maybe he chose to be in that group.


To some extent... it doesn’t matter. I’m gay: and if you randomly assigned me to a group that has to listen to gay stereotypes, it would still be wrong. Even though the method of assignment is technically okay.

Why it’s wrong is debatable. But at least for me it’d be wrong because honestly... that would drag up a lot of psychological trauma for me. Like “I need to take some time off work” bad.

Even if you can predict who that will happen to.. and you try to account for it.. there is no margin of error here that’s acceptable, especially when the material in question could be completed another way.

So yeah. This is a really, really bad look for the Googs here. :(


Yeah, I agree. I think it would disturb a lot of people, including me.


> How does a place that I'd expect to be filled to the brim with forward thinking techies even hire a person who thought this was a good idea?

If you spend 10 seconds on Blind you'll find the most out of touch thought processes with regard to race, religion and sexuality from employees at big Silicon Valley tech companies. Very different from the general population, not forward thinking.


> Very different from the general population, not forward thinking.

IDK about SV tech companies, but I don't think it's accurate to characterize the general population as "forward thinking" on those issues.


My point should have been clear that its less forward thinking than the general population

And you could extrapolate that I’m also referring to the bay area


Ah, that the companies in SV are less forward thinking than the population of, specifically, SV. That could be.


Every unmoderated forum looks roughly like Blind or worse, so you can't draw any conclusions from it except that such people exists in tech as well.


Oh, they're even pushing this on kids now in some education circles: https://ruthking.net/racial-affinity-group-guidelines/

It was quite the scandal: https://nypost.com/2016/07/01/elite-k-8-school-teaches-white...


> this literally sounds like an episode of The Office

It sounds like something out of Kalanick's Uber or Neumann's WeWork.


That's the first thing that popped into my mind too lol ... The one that ends with Steve Carrell and Mindy Kaling!

I worked there and can't really imagine that happening at work, but the article rings pretty true in general so I don't have a reason to doubt it.


This strikes me as standard (maybe poorly executed, possibly exaggerated in order to make a point) anti-stereotyping training. You can find many similar curricula or exercises online.

The fact that the author frames this, without context, the way he did seems dishonest.

https://ubwp.buffalo.edu/ccvillage/wp-content/uploads/sites/...

"The first member of each group should now display the card so that the small group can see the identifying word. During the next three minutes, the remaining group members are to take turns expressing stereotypical remarks about the category of persons named by that sign. The remarks do not necessarily need to be reflective of opinions held by the group members but may reflect things they may have heard or seen growing up in your family, at school, at work, or in the media."

https://www.uh.edu/cdi/diversity_education/resources/activit...

https://www.skillsconverged.com/FreeTrainingMaterials/tabid/...

https://studentlife.mit.edu/sites/default/files/Diversity-ba...

https://www.ouch-video.com/ouch_stereotypes.html

https://officevibe.com/blog/diversity-and-inclusion-activiti...

https://www.yadvashem.org/yv/en/education/international_proj...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CHi1XA2pAZQ

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ePbipufCPYw


You can post as many examples as you want, there's still no way I'd participate in an activity like this.


What if you were labeled as a bigot for refusing to participate in mandatory diversity training?

You can certainly make that choice for yourself, but the system will not reward your behavior with promotion to a position of power where you get to call the shots on whether trainings like this are held.


> What if you were labeled as a bigot for refusing to participate in mandatory diversity training?

"The gay guy who wouldn't go into the room we labelled as 'for homos' is such a bigot for not Going Along"

This diversity exercise was so poorly conceived it was used as a plot for a mainstream sitcom. Evidently, NBC thought that - even for mainstream television - the exercise is enough of a farce that most of their viewers would see it as such, and find humor in it.

If a company is so spineless and devoid of morals as to gate promotions against such a poorly-thought exercise, maybe it's not the most worthwhile promotion to have on a resume to begin with.


> What if you were labeled as a bigot for refusing to participate in mandatory diversity training?

Easy. I'd quit.


Exactly. And the system therefore selects for people who would accept that training, and those people end up deciding what trainings are acceptable.


> and those people end up deciding what trainings are acceptable

In an ideal world companies like these would be arbitraged away, so to speak, as the people who decided to quit when presented with this stupidity are presumably smarter/more intelligent compared to the ones that decided to stay and play the whole charade, so the companies hiring those smarter people would in the long run be more efficient i.e. more profitable compared to the original companies which went down the "stupid diversity training" way.

Again, this is what would happen in an ideal world. The problem with companies like Google is that they're de-facto monopolies so there's no way for the market to arbitrage them away in the foreseeable future.


This particular training seems like a management aptitude filter for Google.


That might be wise. There seem to be an infinitude of ways this could go off the rails very badly.


> The first member of each group should now display the card so that the small group can see the identifying word. During the next three minutes, the remaining group members are to take turns expressing stereotypical remarks about the category of persons named by that sign. The remarks do not necessarily need to be reflective of opinions held by the group members but may reflect things they may have heard or seen growing up in your family, at school, at work, or in the media.

Guess what we used to call this kind of thing:

"...the session is held, ostensibly, to benefit the target, by eliminating all traces of […] reactionary thinking. […]s resisted this at first, because […] conflicted with the […] concept of saving face, but […]s became commonplace at […] meetings during the […]'s due to public popularity"


I'm struggling to see the connection.



Sorry for my pun. Thanks for the link.


What's wrong with stereotypes if they don't lead to discrimination?


Stereotypes are inherently inaccurate. Believing them inevitably leads to discrimination.


Yes, but they are funny.


What's more interesting is how it got past legal.

That episode is just asking for a huge legal and PR blowup.


I think Google have pushed themselves into a corner, where it would be difficult for them to win. Companies like Microsoft and Apple which don't care about Employee unrest would continue to wrestle contracts like JEDI and Chinese market, and continue growing.

Bing continues to operate and censor in China, but nobody bats an eye. But people don't encourage boycotting MSFT because of it. Apple Maps works in China too. China is a substantial market for Apple. Apple keeps removing Apps on the behalf of the Chinese government (recently removed an App used by Hong Kong protestors), and on iOS it is almost impossible for a non tech user to install apps outside of app store.

I think what all this will do is encourage companies to refrain from things like "Don't be evil", since once you do that the geanie is out of the bottle, and you won't just be compared to your peers, but be held to a substantially higher standard.


I think the same mantra is also responsible for the rise in succes. It's an enormously attractive proposition to get paid a lot, work on world's largest dataset with world's most advanced hardware - while all doing good, akin to working for an NGO. The downside is that if you want to get rid of that proposition you're still stuck with a larger than average pool of idealistically driven employees.

As for now one of the few companies I have the desire to work for is Apple due to their stance on privacy - though I find it difficult to completely respect them due to their stance on China, which is entirely conflicting with their western stance regarding privacy and ethics.


I hope that picking a side in the business world works out. Not sarcastically, but genuinely.

But I have serious doubts, and it's not even really the default mantra of human nature or any of that jazz, more so just the fact that large-scale international business is so nuanced due to the differences in cultures and beliefs that I don't see the simplicity of having one side versus another working out very well in practice.


Apple's privacy marketing is bullshit considering China doesn't allow privacy.


China is only one part of the world in which Apple does business. It is in Apple’s best interest to offer privacy as a feature to attract customers in other parts of the world where privacy is not illegal, since it is not something their competitors are yet capable of offering as well.


It's an enormously attractive proposition to get paid a lot, work on world's largest dataset with world's most advanced hardware - while all doing good

The getting paid a lot is to entice people to do the mental gymnastics necessary to pretend what they do isn’t mere adtech.


Conversely you might want to consider the mental gymnastics required to pretend that all that people at google do is merely adtech.


That's the point though - Google positioned itself as somewhere that was ethical, compared to places like Apple/MS that don't care, and a lot of their employees liked that.


Really? Apple sure seems to be shoving a lot of ethical privacy crap down our throats right now. They may even have a point, but it's still obviously holier than thou and not any different than Google claiming to not be evil.


Indeed. There are certain jobs I wouldn't take, or that would have to pay me at least 100,000 more a year to be associated with their moral ambiguity (for me it happens to be facebook)


Google chose to present itself as advocates for moral values, while MSFT/Apple are neural.

I am glad google is paying big money for this. Business could just be business, but virtue signaling is just too tempting to stop. Because it makes a cause for oneself, make it self-righteousness and tragically heroic. Now they are big enoguh and lost all that gold child status, they want the old style business back.

Don’t be evil, said the crowd. Your words are your liability.


Apple is not neutral in its posturing and is painting itself as morally superior to its competitors at a core business level.


As of recently. They've identified privacy as a wedge issue and appear to believe they can leverage it in the minds of their potential userbase as "we respect your privacy, our competitors do not" (nevermind they still maintain a cloud copy of your iPhone contents if you switch that on, or collect your app usage analytics and do only-Apple-knows what they do with that data, not at all unlike their competitors).


But because Apple is not funded by ads, they don't have the same incentive as Google or Facebook to monetize your data.

That said, it's a matter of time until an Apple CEO looking for a way to juice the quarterly numbers finds a way to put that data to work...


Already happened. They have search ads for apps; safe to assume they can tie your use of apps into that dataset. Just because their primary business model is hardware and software sales doesn't imply they don't have a hand in ads; the ROI and margins in ads are stupid high. https://developer.apple.com/documentation/apple_search_ads/s...


Monetizing data is not an evil thing in and of itself. People are so quick to outrage at anything these days.


Only with regards to to the narrow issue of privacy.

But since the introduction of the Mac, a common and arguably justifiable attitude towards Apple by a lot of people has been that "the only difference between Microsoft and Apple is size".


Ironically, there is no difference in size now, as they both have almost identical market caps.


Even Microsoft created a video criticizing gmail privacy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9x4_dozWkq0


Apple is treading the same path with their ads about Privacy in the US and also continuing to sell into China.


> In the email, the HR director told a colleague that I seemed to raise concerns like these a lot, and instructed her to “do some digging” on me instead.

A lesson on how to fire somebody you disagree with. You need paper to show a series of bad behavior, but because there is no prior bad paper you deliberately produce it moving forward to use as a weapon.

I have been through this myself. A manager at a prior company was very unhappy with my periodic separations for scheduled military training. He mentioned that scheduling such separations from work was harming my career and would immediately follow that with some excuse to justify my near termination. Those are illegal communications.

I ignored this for a while because I loved my coworkers. He must have finally brought his frustrations to HR for action, because suddenly one day the negative communications stopped and the formal written documentation started. Somebody had educated him on the lawful approach. I finally just left and found work elsewhere.


IANAL, but as far as I know employer repercussions for military service are forbidden and protected against at a Federal level in the US.

Did you have not have recourse along those lines? (or maybe not in the USA?)


While I think there should be a legal recourse for these sorts of things, everyone's personal calculus on when to fight and when to move on is going to be different.

Just because there is a legal recourse doesn't mean that everyone is going to go down that road. Companies that don't "do the right thing" ultimately get punished by attrition of employees (and customers) deciding to pick up and move on.


This happened to me recently where I had to make a judgement call about pursuing legal action and chose not to. It was regarding being reprimanded for discussing my salary with coworkers (with a heavy implication that I would be fired if I didn't stop).

Looked into it a bit. Discovered it was illegal under US law, but as far as I could tell the best case scenario is that they would be required to re-hire me in the event of termination and possibly give me back pay.

I sent an email to all my coworkers explaining what had happened and listed the phone number for the nearest regional NLRB office. Then I quit.

Still have some doubts about that decision. The company culture had made me to feel like I was doing something shameful either way so my emotions were a little all over the place at the time. I'd had a little more resolve I might have "played it smart" instead of blowing things up but the company was honestly too much of a juggernaut to be remotely effected by any action I took.


To be fair I should have documented each of those occurrences knowing that such communications were improper and I didn't.

Also, it wasn't the company that failed in this regard. It was specifically the manager. Without evidence either way though clearly a conflict had occurred and HR would have to make some determination. If I were in the position of HR I would have educated the manager on the proper way to administrate their concerns to cover the company, which is what I suspect happened.

Since leave, disability, and discrimination in general are hard to prove for all parties involved typically the biggest threat isn't immediate legal consequences. More concerning is reputational harm should something like that could be exposed. Many large companies offload managing these responsibilities unto external contracting vendors to ensure both the company is entirely insulated from malfeasance and the employee is fully protected.


They are protected, but practically enforcing those provisions is very difficult.


It sounds like product teams were deliberating circumventing his team. Hard to imagine anybody being able to serve in this role if their partner teams are unwilling to work with them.

Sidenote: the fundamental problem with Google's performance review process is that you get to choose who reviews you, and nobody chooses to get reviewed by somebody they quarreled with. As a result, claiming you had good performance reviews is more or less meaningless. It really just means your manager liked you. It says little about how good you are at working with others.


I agree. 360 reviews are completely useless. Business and marketing folks always give out quid pro quo great reviews. There is no reason not to. Why would you burn a bridge? And possibly a later career move?

The only people who seem to take 360s seriously are engineers who are usually too competitive with each other to review someone fairly. And that is a major detriment to team cohesion.


engineers who are usually too competitive with each other to review someone fairly. And that is a major detriment to team cohesion.

This is why engineers are so powerless in most organisations, this crab mentality. Members of other professions always present a united front to outsiders and deal with matters internally. It’s too easy for management to divide-and-conquer engineers.


I'm an engineer and I only took 360s seriously the first time I encountered them. I rapidly learned better.


> the fundamental problem with Google's performance review process is that you get to choose who reviews you

Except this isn't true at all.

Your manager reviews you. Other people write feedback (you choose these people, though people can write unsolicited feedback for you). Your manager should be obtaining a holistic view of your work rather than just relying on the solicited feedback.

Further, there is an oversight process where managers must justify their ratings to other managers. This attempts to prevent the "your manager likes you so you get a good review" problem.


If you quarreled with Adam, but got along well with Bob then management can keep you and Adam apart. Unless there are business reasons why the two of you have to cooperate, of course.


Call me cynical but there are so many incentives to all parties here it’s hard for one not to roll one’s eyes at this.

I’m not American, but...

Dude is a politician: “Democratic Candidate for U.S. Senate in Maine.”

He knows of the anti big tech sentiment right now, Liz Warren “break’em up” and all that. This piece is coming out at a very convenient time where the media is hungry for yet more scandals at Google, it’s sure to get the author’s name talked about.

“Enter the Chinese market in 2006...users were getting more information than before, even if there was censorship of some topics... In China, the government not only demands full access to a company’s user data and infrastructure...”

I don’t believe Google pulled out of China just not to be evil. I believe they did so to avoid feeding Baidu with even more expertise than they already had, given the already cross-pollinated rankdex/pagerank algo.

“...in December 2017, Google announced the establishment of the Google Center for Artificial Intelligence in Beijing”

Given the feedback loop of technology flowing military->private sector->military and the vast amount of Chinese nationals acquiring American expertise and returning to China or Chinese gov-controlled biz poaching talent from the US (see Andrew Ng) I wouldn’t be surprised if the US Gov instructed Google and others to open such facilities in China as a way to “fight back”. This is a tech arms race just as hypersonic weapons are.

“...I returned home to Maine. It’s where I was born and raised, and where I was taught basic values like the importance of working hard, standing up for what is right, and speaking the truth. Sharing my story with my neighbors and my family has helped me understand why I was so often in conflict with the company’s leaders as Google changed.“

That paragraph is sure to touch the hearts of many of the voters in the state of Maine which the author is a candidate for the 2020 elections. I trust he’ll use his considerable wealth, accumulated over the 11 “conflicting years“ as a Google exec to fund his campaign.

PS: That diversity exercise is grotesque.


> Dude is a politician: “Democratic Candidate for U.S. Senate in Maine.”

To be more specific, he left Google and is now trying to run for senate, during the election cycle that is about to start. Which makes this Medium post boosting his name id very timely.


The article talks about Google's relationship with China and it's encouraging to see that there were people standing up in the company and pushing back. But I also wonder what author would think about https://wikileaks.org/google-is-not-what-it-seems/

Google essentially was becoming an arm of the US State Department. With Schmidt and Jared Cohen saying things like "What Lockheed Martin was to the twentieth century, technology and cyber-security companies will be to the twenty-first". That seems somewhat benign but then it crosses into Google directly helping the US government drumming up support for Syria air strikes by putting links to government propaganda right on front/search page.

I often wonder what Larry and Sergey really think of Google now. Is this the company they dreamed Google would become? Are they proud how their "child" has grown.


It's not "becoming an arm" because it does many other things independently. Calling it an "arm" discredits you.

But it is a partner, which is bad enough.

Larry and Sergey have about 45% voting power (Eric has the rest of the majority) and huge soft power in Google. They are absolutely happy with their "baby" because they choose every day allow and did everything Google does. They could end any project they don't approve of.


> Lord and master, hear me crying! -

> Ah, he comes excited.

> Sir, my need is sore.

> Spirits that I've cited

> My commands ignore.


> Two weeks after leaving Google, I returned home to Maine. It’s where I was born and raised, and where I was taught basic values like the importance of working hard, standing up for what is right, and speaking the truth.

The folksy tone at the end had me expecting some kind of agenda on behalf of the author with writing the article. Lo and behold, she's a political candidate.

The whole article feels like someone trying to control their past narrative as they preprare to enter public life. She never 'left' for ethical reasons - she was fired then offered a crappy role.


Chances are, he (Ross) has outplayed the senior execs at Google. He was in the CA governor's team before and thus knew about the new trend to regulate tech, so he went to Google to build some wealth for his political campaign, skillfully played the victim's role, and precisely before the 2020 elections got himself fired for being too concerned with human rights. His next step will be to get into the Senate, make it clear to the new president that their views are aligned, acquire an even more powerful position and then come back to the Google execs who talked down to him.


So your theory is that he spent a decade at a company, that grew more than 10x over that time, and got consistently promoted into senior leadership as a cynical ploy to gather ammunition to attack the company he spent a decade working at, and then manufactured a reason to get fired as a political stunt?


His plan was to get into big politics and an exec role was a way to find his campaign. 10 years is a totally believable planning horizon. I doubt he cares much about the petty issues with his former boss, but I'm sure he'll flex on them in the future.


Sounds like... he IS the Senate!!


> she

? The article is written by a person named Ross, the picture looks like someone male-presenting, and the Medium bio lists them as “a husband”.

Whatever do you mean by “she”?


she?


It was no different in the workplace culture. Senior colleagues bullied and screamed at young women, causing them to cry at their desks.

An unfortunate fact that catches many by surprise is that bullying is not against company policy in some of the FAANGs. In fact, some of them were founded by bullies and have a culture that glorifies such behavior.


I find "scream" and "yell" to be incredibly subjective terms, and more often than not applied hyperbolically relative to my meaning of the words.


I've heard it applied to a totally normal conversational level of volume, but with a serious edge/tone to it.


> In fact, some of them were founded by bullies and have a culture that glorifies such behavior.

See video evidence of Bill Gates. [1]

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QzftbBq42i8


I have a hard time understanding how this could possibly be seen as bullying. I have heard about his supposed tirades before but if this is the evidence for his tirades, then I am no longer in the camp of Bill was a Bully.


Doesn't FAANG, by definition, not include Microsoft?


In europe I have mostly heard of "GAFA" as an acronym for large tech companies.

I believe FAANG is a term coming from the financial world about high-performing tech stocks in the '10s, and thus included Netflix but dropped Microsoft as it was doing badly in that time period.


I always thought it odd that Netflix made the cut into that acronym but Microsoft did not. But I think people colloquially add Microsoft to that mix even if it isn’t literally in the acronym.


Netflix doesn't quite belong with the others but FAAG is a more problematic acronym and FAAMG isn't pronounceable.

I've also seen GANDALF (google amazon netflix dropbox amazon linkedin facebook), but dropbox probably doesn't belong in that list. There's plenty of backronyms, but one ends up just hitting critical mass.


My pet theory is that FAANG simply sounds cooler than any anagram of FAAGM. FAMAG maybe?

Or maybe it’s because MS is seen as uncool. A bit like IBM.


Fango is “mud” in Spanish. I guess that’s the same reason behind the BRIC acronym. Easy to remember and thus viral.


> [1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QzftbBq42i8

Interesting, do you know from what program/documentary this excerpt was taken from?


Im confused, where is the bullying in that clip? All I see is the smartest person in the room getting frustrated.


No bullying in this video.

Bullying is targeting an individual repeatedly and for petty reasons. Gates telling what I assume are senior managers to shove bad ideas is not bullying; that's how management is supposed to work.


That's just rude.


How?

It is video that is on topic. Does Bill Gates' donating billions change something about how he was as a CEO to get those billions? What if it were Steve Jobs donating billions?

I don't know what I am missing here.


that's a people problem that exist pretty much in every company with a management layer


> I used those words myself in 2010 as Head of Public Policy for Asia Pacific, when I executed the company’s landmark decision to stop censoring Search results in China, putting human rights ahead of the bottom line.

This guy VPs. He's making it sound as if they cured cancer. What google did is agree to the law in China, and then started to break it. Those are horrible laws, but those were rules of the game from day 1.

Google did that _purely_ for PR - they could've just shutdown their service, instead of starting to break the local laws, they suddenly disagreed with.

What Google did which such an horrible execution, is made Chinese government even more paranoid and destroyed any trust in USA tech companies.


Completely agree.

Google made a half-hearted show of flouting preexisting Chinese authoritarianism only to backtrack shortly thereafter when the cameras were off and the press/government had moved on.

An interesting point of comparison is Facebook of all things. For all of their faults, Facebook could not come to an agreement with the CCP respecting expression and human rights, and so chose to not do business in China. Yet in mainstream sources, the vitriol directed at Facebook is quite a bit more intense than that directed at Google. (And a lot of the hate directed at Facebook is frankly laughable compared to what Google has done.)

I don't even use Facebook (although I'd say I'm paranoid about both companies), but at least Zuckerberg &co. have some skin in the game when standing for their values.

(Almost as much skin in the game as those WhatsApp folks who sacrificed over a gigabuck over their disillusionment at what Facebook were doing to their creation.)

Other thought: the author is either extremely cynical/manipulative for writing a seemingly earnest polemic against Google in order to garner sympathy from the public, or he's genuinely a true believer who is a bit naive and would get steamrolled upon entering the US Senate.


"but at least Zuckerberg &co. have some skin in the game when standing for their values". Is this really the case, can you expand on this?


Yes, Zuckerberg and his team have effectively withdrawn from China. They spent years trying to come to an agreement with the Chinese government, but could never find consensus. They opened up a dev shop in China, only to have the mandatory government license revoked some time later. Facebook has also instituted internal policies forbidding hosting data centers in countries with records of human rights abuses, although admittedly I haven't been able to verify whether they stick to that. It's not farfetched to see that Facebook missed out on tens to hundreds of billions in potential revenue, hence skin in the game.

Per Reuters[0]:

> Zuckerberg effectively closed the door to China in March [2019], when he announced his plan to pivot Facebook toward more private forms of communication and pledged not to build data centers in countries with “a track record of violating human rights like privacy or freedom of expression.”

[0] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-facebook-zuckerberg-idUSK...


Didn't know about this. Thanks. Great to see some companies still care about HR.


That feeling ought to be mutual.

I don't really understand US tech companies that trust China. Especially after the CPC's operatives were caught fishing in Gmail accounts for political dissidents.


I do wonder if any of this articles cost Google anything when it comes to hiring. Will people just take the big fat compensation or does google actually feel any pressure due to negative press.

In my mind at-least, I no longer reply to Google recruiters or consider Google as a respectable employer anymore.


> I do wonder if any of this articles cost Google anything when it comes to hiring.

I would say about half of the engineers that I personally know would never consider working for Google. But they largely reached that place years ago, so I don't think that more recent articles had anything to do with that.


The running joke among the last few years of MIT grads, as far as I've heard from our hires, is that only the bottom of the class goes to work at Google.


That’s baloney. The Course 6 undergraduates I know that went to work for Google, Snap and Microsoft had perfect 5.0s. There may be jokes about those kids but being the bottom of the class makes the least sense.


Grades aren't everything. How many times have you worked with a highly-credentialed person who couldn't perform when it actually mattered?

Baloney or not, I've got grads from the last 3 class years telling me this.

Also, I'm specifically talking about Google. Not any other FAANG.

Google is seen as a place to park yourself at a high salary, not have any responsibility and not get much done. Almost all of them interned at Google at some point and that's how their internships went too.


Their interview process and pay scale strongly indicates they’re optimizing for commodity new grads. I don’t see any appeal for experienced hires.


That's most tech companies that model after Google and have their senior leadership all ex-Google. Including mine.

Hiring seniors is tough and not a lot of companies want to pay market for them when they can get fresh meat for the feature factory and see if they get good on their own in a year or not.

It's extremely unfortunate, but for me the solution is to not work at places with hundreds+ of engineers.


where do they go instead?


It did cost them actual T7+ employees leaving. None of these people made a ruckus about it - they are too smart to burn bridges. Still they did call out bullshit in their parting letters.


Google has the power to hide negative press


Does Google use that power? I see a lot of negative press.


Money does not stink -> is the old saying. It doesn't matter for most people who pays them. There is still a huge queue of competent devs waiting to enter at G and FB and give everything they got for big money.


HR does not protect you. They have two roles, and two roles only:

- They protect the company from being sued.

- They fire you.


Note that protecting the company from being sued can mean protecting you. For example, a harasser might be fired to avoid a lawsuit. But you hear stories about HR people putting the company in legal jeopardy (e.g. not firing a harasser) due to their own bias, laziness or in-company relationships.


If you’ve been harassed at work it gives you an upper hand to complain about your workplace, and so you also present a liability to the company now that harassment occurred. That might not mean consequences but it does mean you are more risky, even if there’s no easy way to deal with that risk now.


Ok, so, "let harassers get away with it" is the correct answer? Surely not.


Harassment is difficult to document. If it's not documented and there are no witnesses willing to corroborate (i.e. if you can't sue), to HR it doesn't exist.

Anecdotally, I've also seen people complain of harassment when e.g. someone complemented them on their looks when wearing a bikini at a company event in Hawaii. So while I in general have no sympathy for HR, they do end up in such bullshit situations from time to time.


Critically, if you have hard evidence that could screw the company, they fire the person that would minimize the damage if you were to sue.

But yeah, 100% of their responsibility centers around protecting the company, and 0% around protecting the employee _per se_.


> and after the Chinese government attempted to hack into the Gmail accounts of human rights advocates in 2009

Not really relevant to the story, but this was always a lie. The reason that China hacked Google had nothing to do with spying on activists. It’s a cover story for a counter-intel op.

China hacked the “PRISM”-like feature in order to see which of their spies had been burned, based on whether or not the US government had wiretaps on those accounts.

https://www.darkreading.com/attacks-and-breaches/google-auro...

https://www.cio.com/article/2386547/-aurora--cyber-attackers...


Oh boy, Google is going to be upset if he is elected Senator... I wonder if a break up big tech line would appeal to voters in Maine.


If anyone ever wonders how Google justifies those multi-million-dollar golden parachutes when high-valued employees leave the company, here's a case study in how.

Google employs good engineers and politically powerful people. There are consequences for a company that does that when they lose the trust of those individuals.


I find it hilarious that they were trying to virtue signal about inclusivity with their diversity trainings, but instead they resulted in a bunch of racist behavior and actual minorities being extremely offended, even years later.


Oh, I think it's worse than that. I think the company leadership legitimately wants to do right by minority staff and has no idea how, so that defer to third-party programs they lack the skill to evaluate.


Maybe it is better to show episodes of Seasame street. They seem to be able to do it.


He's not suggesting anything like breaking up big tech. He's suggesting government oversight:

"Although the causes and the implications are worth debating, I am certain of the appropriate response. No longer can massive tech companies like Google be permitted to operate relatively free from government oversight. As soon as Google executives were asked by Congress about Project Dragonfly and Google’s commitment to free expression and human rights, they assured Congress that the project was exploratory and it was subsequently shut down.

The role of these companies in our daily lives, from how we run our elections to how we entertain and educate our children, is just too great to leave in the hands of executives who are accountable only to their controlling shareholders who — in the case of Google, Amazon, Facebook and Snap — happen to be fellow company insiders and founders."

Personally, having worked at a big tech company, I couldn't agree with him more.


Given the influence of companies like Google and Facebook in our elections and political discourse these days, maybe Google thinks it's a sure thing that he won't be elected.

Or that even if he is, how much reach will he have anyway?


oh wow! Isn't this just blatant sexism and racism ?

> It was no different in the workplace culture. Senior colleagues bullied and screamed at young women, causing them to cry at their desks. At an all-hands meeting, my boss said, “Now you Asians come to the microphone too. I know you don’t like to ask questions.” At a different all-hands meeting, the entire policy team was separated into various rooms and told to participate in a “diversity exercise” that placed me in a group labeled “homos” while participants shouted out stereotypes such as “effeminate” and “promiscuous.” Colleagues of color were forced to join groups called “Asians” and “Brown people” in other rooms nearby.


"“Now you Asians come to the microphone too. I know you don’t like to ask questions.”"

I actually listened to a great podcast recently that expresses why this might be, and the trick is not to demand more interaction but to give everyone an opportunity to write thoughts down first. Then the differences sharply decrease.

What this shows me is an unfortunate lack of education in recent sociological research, but also a lack of curiosity to pursue. Weird for Google.


I don't know about the "Now you Asians" line but the diversity exercise is so bloody obvious in what it's aiming to achieve that it blows my mind any other HN commenters aren't able to figure it out.

It is a "see how it feels to be discriminated against" exercise. You can argue the outcomes, but you certainly can't argue the intentions. It's clearly aimed at trying to make people understand what it's like to be discriminated against.

About the best you can do for a well-intentioned person doing a thing like that is tell them it's not helping.


I wonder if Microsoft, Oracle, and Amazon employees ever dare to say such things about their company polices. No wonder these companies are thriving. Sad thing is When startups and new corporations would like to use the clouds then they don't check the human rights policies and work culture and instead of Google goes to such corporation and then Google executives think Why are we even on moral policing part? As this doesn't help. So problem lays within us, like me using Windows 10 in computer and buying things from Amazon.


I’ve met this guy on a conference and remember being sure he will run for public office one day.


What "gave it away" about him?


It felt like he genuinely cared about issues I’ve raised though I was 99% sure he did not give a slightest fuck about them. He was listening and responding in such a way that I felt a relieve by simply talking to him. Great experience.


> It felt like he genuinely cared about issues I’ve raised though I was 99% sure he did not give a slightest fuck about them.

How does that work?


The original title gives a very different impression than the posted title. Here's the original:

"I Was Google’s Head of International Relations. Here’s Why I Left."


Happened to know quite a few people from Google who has been frustrated by the policy made by his team and they clearly disagree with many of it’s implementation details. It might be interesting to hear from insiders how much they appreciate his org


Which is fair, but it seems like an org with the task of keeping the company from being evil would generate some friction with people seeking the shortest path to product (and therefore promotion).

That the work they do is unpopular doesn't imply the work they do is bad. I, personally, was always grudgingly respectful of the privacy auditing team, even if their suggestions could delay a project upwards of two quarters.


Seems like Google needs an executive leadership team where these types of questions are addressed and decisions are made. A human rights board sounds like a good idea to me but I can see why a company would not pursue one. We largely expect the US government to take the lead with respect to human rights. Not saying that I agree or disagree with that but it is how many businesses operate.

Googlers who disagree could voice to the ELT and then make decisions on their own if the ELT disagrees if they want to stay, leave or what not. They could unionize too and use the power of collective bargaining. It seems like the cafeteria workers figured out how to do it.


I'm openly curious if even the creation of some kind of leadership team for human rights questions opens the company up to more liability by creating a paper trail that a prosecutor could point to.

What happens when the documented human rights decisions differ from US law (which has its own places where it's fallen on its face in the human rights department)? Or from the law of any country in which Google operates, for that matter?

(I agree this is a good idea in principle, but it's possible for good ideas to be bad to implement for liability reasons).


What would the crime be?


It isn't that the creation of such a group is itself a crime. It's that such a group creates a formal paper trail that (whatever crime Google could be accused of) could come under discovery. And "We thought about this and came to the 'wrong' conclusions" is no defense, and the penalties for such a paper trail can be higher than the penalties for "we didn't think of this."


US companies are already required to follow laws that uphold human rights.

https://photos.state.gov/libraries/korea/49271/july_2013/dwo...


Specifically, US companies are required to follow laws that uphold (The US government's interpretation of) human rights.


So there’s no additional legal worry here..


Indications that a company considered alternatives and chose the "wrong" one can indicate intent, which can aggravate damages depending on the law in question.


Yet another anecdote that toxic tech culture is really toxic finance culture.


It's capitalism culture.


If you want to try socialist culture go work for the government.


imho, the author's being disingenuous when describing the cringeworthy diversity exercises.

The point of those exercises is to make you cringe at name-calling and stereotyping. To take the thoughts out of peoples' minds and put them in ether so all can see how cringey these labels are.


That all seems... pretty damning. Not very surprising, but pretty damning.

Google definitely needs to outright fire the HR partner who was stupid enough to write that they should "do some digging" on a staff member down. They're clearly a liability.


Yes, that's absolutely the crux of the problem here.


For our benefit, shouldn't they stay on permanently? Also, how does messing up a cc equate to a bad employee? It happens all the time even in important communications. Sucks, but what can you do?


> Also, how does messing up a cc equate to a bad employee?

It wasn't the CC I was criticising. If you subscribe to the maxim that the point of an HR department is to shield the company from successful employment lawsuits then putting "dig up some dirt" on someone in writing anywhere where it is subject to discovery in the event of a lawsuit is flat out incompetent.


This was a great read. Nothing like a story from the inside to highlight that senior executives at Google really don't care about human rights and just how far down the slippery slope they've already gone.


Well, the author is now running for a US public office position. So I personally take this article as just another form of content marketing for his new public persona.


Put yourself in the author's shoes. If you'd seen these kinds of wrongs and you wanted to right them, and discovered you couldn't do it from within the organization, how would you do it from the outside?

Because from where I'm sitting, your narrative is universal against all politicians, and in fact democracy itself, since all political communications are just marketing to get elected.


> Because from where I'm sitting, your narrative is universal against all politicians, and in fact democracy itself, since all political communications are just marketing to get elected.

Fair point. I personally welcomed the contribution. To me it just points to the fact the author may have an angle/objective not explicitly stated. There is nothing wrong with that. I don't see it as being against all politicians or even democracy itself. It is just about pointing out that there may be other factors influencing the author's decision. I'd be curious (if not suspicious) about anybody running for public office who does not have some kind of personal interest in addition to the desire to serve.


I think ordinary journalistic skepticism should apply here? He's telling a story from his perspective, but you can't judge a political situation by listening to only one of the people involved.


The biggest point of skepticism in my mind is the combination of two totally unrelated qualms in one article. "Google ignored human rights in China in pursuit of profit. (and therefore Google is evil)" AND "Google isn't nice to women, minorities, and other groups. (and is therefore evil)"

These two issues are not related at all. It's easy to imagine a company which didn't kowtow to China, but was still not treating minorities properly. And of course, it's easy to imagine the reverse. (and, I'll bet that latter scenario happens quite often.) The only real point relating them together is the author's personal grievance.

It's also the case that the James Damore memo suggests the opposite problem the author complains about -- diversity policies which are too progressive. I'm not suggesting Damore is correct, and the author is incorrect, but instead that this line of argument is not a given.

Further, although I completely agree with the complaints with regard to China, the author has said very little which was not already publicly known. That's a fine thing to do, but he muddies the water by mixing these large geopolitical problems with his own personal grievances.

Lastly, I find it surprising that he does not know how HR works. As I mentioned above, HR prevents lawsuits. They only help you if helping you will prevent a lawsuit.


Those two issues are related. In both cases, Google is hypocritically betraying its original promise to respect social good.


>It's also the case that the James Damore memo suggests the opposite problem the author complains about -- diversity policies which are too progressive. I'm not suggesting Damore is correct, and the author is incorrect, but instead that this line of argument is not a given.

Just because Google hires women and minorities doesn't mean they are treated well. In fact, you need women and minorities in close proximity to mistreat them. There is no conflict between the author and James Damore.


I think this is a valid point. I suppose if I'd elaborated better, I might have explained why I thought the author's point was weak.

- Do we know it's only young girls getting screamed at, or is everyone getting screamed at?

- I vehemently dislike the diversity exercises, but it's clear that splitting people into groups and identifying stereotypes was meant to be a helpful, progressive exercise. (I don't believe these are actually helpful or progressive, but it's clear that this is their intent.) Because of this, I don't feel that calling out how asinine these diversity classes are is proof of bigotry in google. I'm not suggesting there is not bigotry (I really wouldn't know) -- just that the author did not make a strong case.


This article is laughable and clearly biased. The examples he's given are almost certainly out of context and the way he praises himself for being an "outstanding" manager and employee also says a lot about that person.


I didn't consider it self-praise, I felt it was important context prior to his departure.

Leaving a company with your work in formal good standing is a very different choice from leaving a company where you were struggling to get the job done.


At which big company do you think senior executives care about human rights? I am not saying Google shouldn't strive to do better than others, but just curious.


I think the interesting part (from this story, and my personal experience) was that Google execs did care for as long as they did. It obviously ended, but much later then I would have expected.


A lot of companies are less subject to criticism by simply not having an arsenal of spying and censorship tools at their disposal, or China as a major target market.

If you're a senior executive at CVS or Verizon or Home Depot you don't need a stance on disputed borders in your maps or flags in your emoji set - making it much easier to avoid the kind of criticisms tech companies are vulnerable to.

Sure, you're vulnerable to criticism for selling products brought from (or containing components brought from) oppressive regimes, but Apple and Google and Microsoft all do that and the other stuff as well


If big is the problem than maybe we should break these monopolies up.


How does that work well in a global economy? What if China doesn't break their big companies, but rather encourages them?


What will likely happen is those companies will now have less competition and as a result dominate the world economy. Serving as yet another tool to exert and influence the geopolitical landscape.


The first word of your response belies its incorrectness. While you may end up being right, the situation is anything but “simple”. There are plenty of Monopolies that were taken down by innovation in the last 20 years. Monopolies are not autocrats. They do have lots of power, but they’re not invincible, especially when it comes to innovating.


And which monopolies were replaced with a good competitive landscape. Nobody is saying innovation can't replace monopolies, just that they are more likely to be replaced by another innovative monopoly rather than several competitive businesses.


Those big companies can simply be banned. Look at Huavei.


Was huawei ever banned, or only threatened?


Free trade is not a law of nature.


Off-course not. However, the economy would change a lot if we were to take that view, and we will have other problems.


Change is not a bad thing.


I think Larry and Sergey did. And that's kind of the authors point when he talks about leadership change.


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