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Leaving Google (douweosinga.com)
112 points by antichaos on May 8, 2011 | hide | past | favorite | 37 comments

Google is indeed a tightly walled garden. Hackers & Founders has been holding events 4 or 5 miles away from Google headquarters in Mountain View for several years. And, out of their 25,000 employees. We only get a handful of engineers that show up. And when they arrive, they quickly realize that H&F involves having a beer or two and geeking out about startups. The Googlers often can't geek out because of heavy NDA's, and are very concerned about loose lips after having a beer or two. So, they often stop showing up.

I've also been stunned at how few Googlers I come across are working on startups part time. Those that I find are workign on something on the side are very hush-hush about it, because of non-compete stuff. (It's hard to work on a software startup that doesn't directly compete with your parent company, when your parent companies mission is to organize the world's information).

Finally, I stopped by Google Ventures this week for a "Get to know Hackers & Founders" chat, like I've had at dozens of other VC's the past few months. Google Ventures was the _only_ VC that presented me with an NDA on sign in (via kiosk). The kiosk wanted me to sign a "I will never, ever talk about what I might learn about Google inside these walls" before got a name badge or got buzzed in the door.

I walked out before my meeting with the VC. If they are that concerned about what I might learn.... I don't want to know. There's a couple hundred VC's in town that I can talk to without having to sign or decline and NDA.

So, GOOG, there's reasons you're getting the "Google is the new Evil Empire" meme attached to you.

Frankly, Microsoft has been orders of magnitude more helpful to startups at H&F than Google, and we've been meeting within spitting distance of GOOG for 3 years. The BizSpark team has been fantastic to work with, and are helpful to startups whether or not they're on the MicroSoft stack or not.

The lawyercats seem to be quite successful in keeping people from experimenting on their own time. That plus the nebulous list of product areas which might be "tainted" somehow makes it dangerous to guess.

Worse still, if you go and ask if a certain idea would be a conflict, you risk showing your hand. So, anyone who's serious about trying things is likely to leave, and it will only get worse as more business areas are roped in.

I suspect I'm one of those Googlers who used to go but stopped showing up. :-)

Anyway, I think your perception is basically accurate, at least in my limited experience. Google is the wrong place to go if you're interested in working on a startup on the side. Between the draconian "all your IP are belong to us", the intellectual demands of your day job, and the numerous opportunities to try out interesting side projects under the Google umbrella, the path of least resistance is usually just to do your side-projects as Google-owned 20% time.

It can be a good place to learn a whole bunch of technical, leadership, and product skills and then do a startup. Google's quite a bit more open internally than most big companies, so you're exposed to a lot more than you would be at another large corporation, and possibly even more than in a startup. There are specialists in performance, accessibility, internationalization, security, and all these other tricky corners that startups typically muddle through, and the quality of documentation on how to handle those is much better than you'll generally find on the web. You get daily experience with scaling, such that thinking about how to build scalable solutions becomes second-nature. You're often directly involved in product decisions, and can see how your choice fare in the real world. You have a wide variety of hard UX data at your fingertips; much of this is cutting edge applied psychology, and isn't available anywhere else.

I think we're starting to see a trickle of Xooglers leaving the mothership and founding their own things. I know at least 6 of them personally, plus there're posts like this blog entry. In general, I think this is a very good thing for the Valley startup ecosystem, just like how Fairchild spawned almost all of Silicon Valley in the 60s, and Xerox PARC spawned much of the rest of the modern computer industry in the 70s.

It's kinda ironic that Google is totally open for users, but is a walled garden for employees. Meanwhile, Facebook is a walled garden for users, but is relatively open about letting employees publish and open-source infrastructure. (Actually, that's perhaps an unfair comparison: Google is also really open about letting employees open-source infrastructure, the problem is that Google culture tends to result in re-use of core proprietary infrastructure, such that when it comes time to open-source the software, it's impossible to disentangle from the parts that definitely can't be open-sourced.) Meanwhile, Microsoft is now relatively open for both employees and users, but is a walled-garden for developers.

What can I say, we miss ya :)

every single visitor has to sign into a kiosk to enter google. however, you can decline the NDA portion and it prints "nda-declined" on the name badge. this may prevent you from entering some places.

but, i do think you are over reacting about the google kiosk NDA. every visitor signs it. you are not special.

I'm not at all suggesting I'm special at all because I was asked to sign an NDA at the kiosk.

I'm suggesting that founders have a choice when it comes to investors. If I'm asked to accept or decline an NDA before I have a conversation with a VC, I'd rather go to one of the other hundred VC's to talk to in town where that isn't an issue.

a good portion of the information i have ever learned under NDA has been valuable to me in some way, so i would encourage founders to sign NDAs and get the scoop. just don't share what you learn outside your company..

NDAs are vital, I'm sure if they could avoid the process of creating one they would.

There's a concrete reason you see very few Googlers working part-time with startups. Google has a conflict of interest policy that disallows employees from working on competing products; since Google has entered so many areas of technology recently, almost anybody can be considered a competitor. On the other hand, I've seen a lot of my friends leave Google recently to pursue side interests.

You can decline the NDA and nothing bad will happen. All visitors are asked to sign an NDA, which is a silly policy but easy enough to ignore.

"[Google's culture] has led to many innovations - from the search first homepage, to the NoSql movement, powering webmail by Ajax ..."

C'mon now. Outlook Web Access and Oddpost used Ajax-like technologies for webmail long before GMail's first line had been coded.

Also, while BigTable certainly has had some influence on NoSQL, I find it difficult to credit Google with the entire movement considering how long these types of DBs have been around. Petabyte-scaled high performance DB storage? Maybe. NoSQL? Nope.

Ford didn't invent the automobile or mass production either, they just elevated it to a new level that defined it for an entire era, just as Google did with AJAX.

I wouldn't credit Google with as big a part with the NoSQL movement. BigTable is a big innovation but it wasn't making much of an impact on the rest of the industry for a long time. Memcache probably had a bigger impact on the NoSQL movement, for example.

This is more common than most folks seem to think. I've noticed the curious delusion in talking to acquaintances where ABMers who stridently complain about Microsoft innovations and tools insist that XHR "doesn't count because Google made it popular."

When gently informed (not reminded--most of the ones I know have never touched Outlook in their lives) that Outlook Web Access was the reason XHR was invented, the response so far has invariably been "but that doesn't count, because it's Microsoft."

I somewhat chalk it up to the "cool factor" that surrounds Google, but a good part of it may just be ignorance.

I think it was actually Google Maps that made XHR popular, not GMail. With GMail, people figured that the AJAX-interactivity was cool, but not groundbreaking. With Maps, it opened up fundamentally new interaction models that didn't exist before.

This is somewhat ironic, since Maps didn't use XHR at all, and instead used an iframe transport. For that matter, "AJAX"-enabled Google Search also uses an iframe and contains no XML. Monikers are weird.

A draggable tiled map doesn't require XHR or iframes. It's a bunch of img tags next to each other, and some JavaScript that sets their src and position.

The other interactions do, though, eg. the results changing as you drag the map.

I have a NoSQL startup and I got started by reading "the Google papers":


Some code:


IMHO the NoSQL interest began increasing with the "Prevalent System" design pattern. People realized that when programming with Java etc. it was easier to have the info in RAM rather than deal with RDBMS.

Prevayler.org for instance has been around for many years, since 2003 or so ; the lisp code for doing prevalence has been around almost as long: http://homepage.mac.com/svc/prevalence/readme.html .

Apparently Klaus Weustefeld proposed some of this in 2001. An IBM developerWorks article is from 2002: http://www.ibm.com/developerworks/library/wa-objprev/

Ten years to an "overnight success" ... sounds about right.

This is not news. Google's got 20,000 employees. Statiscally, every day a non-famous googler leaves Google. And that post doesn't tell us anything about Google that we didn't already know.

I think for an organization with that size, it is normal to see at least 3-4 employee leaving every day.

I believe they had 20,000 employees few years back. Now it should be much more, if not twice that.

I spoke to a googler and she told me they were 25K at the beginning of the year and looking to hire 20% more...

Wow, who needs to justify leaving a job after 7 years? Good read though and the author's new business looks cool. Although I often repeat and work for the same bosses again, I have always tried to work no more than 1 to 3 years with a group/team/company. Now, with a large company like Google (similar in size to SAIC where I was for 20 years, off and on), switching teams/divisions, etc. helps mix up the work experience but still getting fresh jobs is simply a good life strategy. BTW, It is easy enough to maintain long term friendships even if you don't work with people anymore.

I've been following douweosinga's blog since before he joined Google, interesting to see he's moving on. Part 2 is a little more interesting than the first.

He linked to this, though, which I didn't know about, and seems at first glance to be very useful and neat: http://sharedspaces.googlelabs.com/

Why do people bash so much about the company when they are leaving ? Is it they want to become famous all of sudden ? Why don't people accept that big companies won't be like the same company when it got started.

I was talking to a friend who works at Yahoo today. She's feeling terribly overworked and unproductive mostly because of some boneheaded organizational practices. I don't know the full story, but it sounds like she has pretty much accepted that management is brain-dead.

At Google, there's a culture that if something is broken, call it out so that it can be fixed. At best, you will save thousands of employees hundreds of hours. At worst, you'll learn why it's broken. Many problems are inherent in running a large company, and there is no easy fix for them. But many others have simple solutions that make everyone's lives better.

The way I see it (and this is completely my personal opinion here, not speaking for Google), he and other Xooglers who've written posts like this are being Googley. You don't work for seven years at a company without absorbing some of the culture, and that culture doesn't simply leave when you hand in your badge. Posts like this are not all that different from something you would see on internal Buzz or mailing lists, and I think the spirit of them is not to "bash" Google, but to call out things that Google could improve upon even after the Xoogler has left.

Bash? No. Try to fix? Absolutely.

Ever watch a friend slowly slip away? They change from something you knew to something unrecognizable. You have to at least try to do something about it.

Speaking as an ex-Yahoo!, I have to say that with a company that big, with that many external commercial deals, and that many layers of management: effecting change as you see it is so non-trivial as to odds-on be a waste of your time. Additionally, trying and failing is actually quite demoralising.

I do think it's significantly more difficult at Yahoo than at Google. Google has a very much bottom-up culture. If you want to try something different, get the support of your manager and peers, and then just go do it. If it turns out to work significantly better, people in other parts of the organization will notice, and copy it. Pretty soon the whole company will be doing it whether or not Larry blesses it.

The introduction - and then pervasiveness - of unit tests was one such change that basically took over Google culture despite the ambivalence of the founders. People found they could simply move faster when they had confidence in their code, they started sharing the knowledge of how to write better tests, and eventually it simply became the accepted thing to do. (Interestingly, the testing intergrouplet failed several times before they struck on a bottom-up approached that worked. As with everything, persistence is important inside big companies too.)

I don't think Larry/Sergey will check for Why I left Google posts on the web and create taskforce to fix all these things. There is always a better way to give feedback to management without posts like this on the web. I hope Xooglers don't become Google haters and spend their energies on creating the next Google or Facebook and create a culture they dreamed of.

Larry and Sergey won't. Many other Googlers will. And if the concerns are real and fixable, then it'll get people talking about ways to fix them, and some of those ideas might bubble up to the top.

Or maybe not. Oftentimes, things don't even need to bubble up to the top to have an impact. You've got a very distorted picture of large organizations if you think that Larry suddenly makes a decision and then the whole company immediately does what he says. Large companies are really collections of small independent groups, and nobody really understands everything that's going on, and often times the worst problems are best addressed at the middle-management level. I think most rank-and-file Google employees have the same goals as Larry Page: we want to launch things quickly, we want people to use our stuff, we want to have a big impact on the world, and we want the share price to increase. The problem is translating that big-picture desire into specific practices and processes that'll result in that.

What about the open letters directed at Larry Page, such as http://dearlarrypage.com

The answer is probably different for everyone. I suspect this individual doesn't feel animosity towards google, rather he would like to share his thoughts about why he left. Maybe it's a warning for other people about to join the company or just a way to commiserate with ex-googlers. Maybe he's showing off. What kind of person has the luxury to quit a job that legions of fellow coders would scramble for? Maybe he's advertising himself as a free agent. These, of course are all speculation. I don't think he's bashing google at all; I think he's telling them exactly what he thinks they need to hear so someone on-high steers the company in direction more attractive to creative engineers. But what do I know? Maybe you should ask him. Then you could write a "Why do people bash companies when leaving" blogpost. After you submit it to hackernews, expect the spanish inquisition!

This post did not bash Google.

That was the goal, though. At least I think so. After reading is honestly I still don't know why he left.

The end of the second part explains it. It makes perfect sense to me. From google perspective, there are lessons to learn from this, but that is easy to say.

On a side note, Triposo looks pretty good. There are some problems with the wikipedia text sometimes being in the city's native language though. I'm not sure if maybe that's how the page was when you scraped it.

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