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Why did I leave Google or, why did I stay so long? (paygo.media)
825 points by mrowland on Feb 17, 2021 | hide | past | favorite | 806 comments

I can certainly see a lot of parallels with Oculus / Facebook.

Perhaps unusually, I actually wanted FB to impress itself more strongly on Oculus post acquisition because, frankly, Oculus was a bit of a mess. Instead, Oculus was given an enormous amount of freedom for many years.

Personally, nobody ever told me what to do, even though I was willing to "shut up and soldier" if necessary -- they bought that capability! Conversely, I couldn't tell anyone what to do from my position; the important shots were always called when I wasn't around. Some of that was on me for not being willing to relocate to HQ, but a lot of it was built into early Oculus DNA.

I could only lead by example and argument, and the arguments only took on weight after years of evidence accumulated. I could have taken a more traditional management position, but I would have hated it, so that's also on me. The political dynamics never quite aligned with an optimal set of leadership personalities and beliefs where I would have had the best leverage, but there was progress, and I am reasonably happy and effective as a part time consultant today, seven years later.

Talking about "entitled workers" almost certainly derails the conversation. Perhaps a less charged framing that still captures some of the matter is the mixing of people who Really Care about their work with the Just A Job crowd. The wealth of the mega corps does allow most goals to be accomplished, at great expense, with Just A Job workers, but people that have experienced being embedded with Really Care workers are going to be appalled at the relative effectiveness.

The communication culture does tend a bit passive-aggressive for my taste, but I can see why it evolves that way in large organizations. I've only been officially dinged by HR once for insensitive language in a post, but a few people have reached out privately with some gentle suggestions about better communication.

All in all, not a perfect fairy tale outcome, but I still consider taking the acquisition offer as the correct thing for the company in hindsight.

Often workers are perfectly capable and eager of Really Caring but then the company incentives and politics force them into Just A Job category. Especially when joining Big Tech not via acquihire.

Thanks for sharing this. It just goes to show that even the best of us can find it difficult to effect change in a big company. The nature of a large organization is it requires lots of communication, alignment, and on-the-ground politics to make things happen, which is definitely a challenge for those of us who just want to get shit done.

> The wealth of the mega corps does allow most goals to be accomplished, at great expense, with Just A Job workers, but people that have experienced being embedded with Really Care workers are going to be appalled at the relative effectiveness.

I think the problem is actually deeper than that. I've spent much of my career avoiding megacorps, or even just corps, because I find them pretty frustrating. I have though worked at a couple of larger companies - one of them very large - as much to see what I could learn as anything else.

I sit somewhere on the spectrum between "Really Care" and "Just A Job", and it's varied quite a lot depending on what I'm doing and who I'm working with.

The problem with big companies is the "Really Care" gets beaten out of you: if you show any initiative whatsoever to try to get ahead of a situation or help another team you pretty quickly get shut down and told to stay in your lane.

Big companies tend to fragment and specialise responsibilities, if not actual skills.

Related to this hardly anyone has any decision-making power which means that any change requires a combinatorial explosion of interactions between individuals and teams to happen regardless of how competent or committed those individuals are.

It just favours mediocrity and coasting, along with a high tolerance for boredom, because there often isn't a viable alternative course of action for many employees no matter how good (or bad) those employees might be in another context working for another company. Sometimes you're in the right place at the right time, or have a conversation with the right person, to make something happen.

Another related issue: the vast majority of employees at big companies have no concept of the value of time, which manifests itself in all kinds of ways, but ultimately results in the performance of large quantities of BS/non-value adding work. If you're employed by a smaller company working in partnership with a larger company the asymmetry in understanding of time's value becomes particularly stark: you can often find yourself wondering why these people at the larger company feel so free to waste so much of your time asking you to do things that aren't valuable to the partnership or to the success of either company, or asking you to have the same conversation over and over again with different groups of people.

Back on point, the corporation has to "make do" with "Just A Job" workers because, in large part, the corporation creates them regardless of their initial state of motivation.

Everything you said is spot on and resonated with me personally

While I totally agree with your Really Care and Just A Job characterization, I think that money does play a significant role in overall picture. People behave very differently after they run into six, seven, eight figures. And that behavior isn’t perfectly correlated with how much they put into the job. There’s a fair place for the “entitled” narrative, and when these people have outsized leverage on the company or product, it can create outsized problems.

“For a million dollars, anything is your passion”

Joel on Software used to explain that rich entrepreneurs always sound passionate, but it is useless to try to emulate passion, because a big success can make someone passionate for anything. (...and I confirm – since we make 70k€ a month per cofounder, I became more passionate).

A million dollars or some other significant sum of money doesn't nourish the soul the same way something you're actually passionate about does. You can fake it for a long time, but it's never quite the same, at least that I've found.

> but it is useless to try to emulate passion, because a big success can make someone passionate for anything. (...and I confirm – since we make 70k€ a month per cofounder, I became more passionate).

I remember reading an article about a Chinese cockroach farmer that incidentally described how his wife said the cockroaches were misunderstood. "Look how shiny they are!"

I imagine it helped the cockroaches' case that, by her standards, she was rich and successful.

sorry, downvote, that just so viscerally doesn’t ring true. the sibling comment speaks of soul nourishment. yes. at the level of 400k, 1M, 4M it’s a fucking digit on a screen in your bank’s app. come on now...

my experience is the absolute reverse direction. money is so very numbing

But as someone who recently bought a Quest 2, it really is an amazing product, so some things there must have been very right. In retrospect, do you know what those things were?

Honestly, I doubt the Quest line of products would have launched when they did with such a low price if FB was not running the show. Quest 1/2 might not even exist at all. The original founders were mostly focused on PC VR. Carmack was the odd one out in that respect in pushing for standalone VR (as can be seen with the Samsung GearVR).

For what it it’s worth, I was part of the founding team and led the hardware development of Rift, but also kicked off the hardware architecture of Quest 2 (and the original Quest). As much as many of us were and are PC people, by the time we started Quest 2, everyone who was left had come around to standalone.

I was an early backer of Oculus having bought the DK1/Dk2 back in 2012/14 and I was so perplexed when they announced they were putting effort into a mobile headset. It made no sense to me until I put the Oculus Quest 2 on my head last October 2020 and I learned a massive lesson!

There is a third group. Programmer as Artisan/Craftsman they recognize that it is a just a job, but they care about quality and their work most. People that would invest countless hours into their craft and would build applications that provide high value for both users and employer. They are mostly immune to corporate bullshit and have great IC careers.

People that have worse are "Just a Job" crowd that lack real programming skill. They would be quickly hit by ageism and their careers stuck very quickly on Senior Developer position because they do not care enough to be promoted into management.

>Personally, nobody ever told me what to do, even though I was willing to "shut up and soldier" if necessary

i wonder who at FB has the cachet to tell such thing to John Carmack. Zuck probably had the poster of John Carmack on the internal mental wall while going to middle school.

Like happiness, work ethic varies by individual overtime. With happiness, people who won the lottery and people who lost a limb were tracked. After a year (after their windfall or trajedy) each was just as happy orbsad as they were prior to the event. Some folks are happy go getters, some are slackers & whiners. The art of leadership is helping the later become the former so they can truly succeed in life (it’s not always about the explicit compensation package, but fairness helps). The leader needs to be clear about the role, deliverables and boundaries of each member of the team and use a framework (like Agile) to keep them in sync to meet spec, time & cost targets aligned with a shared vision to which all are committed. If you’re heart is not in your work, if you’re not living your dream, do yourself a favor and change leaders, projects, companies or career. Life is too short to sell your time to “work” at something for which you have no passion. Get a dream & follow it. The purpose of life is to struggle at what you love, progressing toward a worthy goal. And if being a parent is part of your dream, being a very good one. BALANCE. No one is perfect. We learn from our mistakes and move on. No regrets or sour grapes. Just loving kindness and respect for one another.

Just curious, what things did you want/expect FB to be more hands-on about? General things like company organization, or more specific product decisions (I'm thinking of one particularly controversial product decision but I understand if that's a sensitive topic)?

I suspect he won't want to get into thorny PR issues, but probably company organization. It's easy to imagine a disorganized startup scaling poorly, and those within it wanting guidance from highly-scaled FB.

It's surprising to me that your (former) title wouldn't entail more direct leadership, even as a simple messenger for "shut up and soldier."

> people who Really Care about their work with the Just A Job crowd

These aren't discrete categories.

There are a lot of people who care about their work and also recognize that at the end of the day, it is a job, and the reality is that they can only play a role in shaping the outcome, not dictate it per their vision.

Also, depending on the job, the team, the project, and the product, people can go from one of those perspectives to the other. There are a lot of people whose current job/role situations aren't intrinsically motivating, but then find incredible motivation due to a change in project or role (I've experienced this multiple times).

This point hit home for me:

> but people that have experienced being embedded with Really Care workers are going to be appalled at the relative effectiveness.

Unless you've experienced the Really Care type of team and situation, it's difficult to understand.

I don't mean any disrespect to the Just A Job people. There is nothing wrong with keeping your head down, getting your work done, and checking it at the door when you sign off at 5PM Monday through Friday. Frankly, that's the correct approach for most people.

However, there really are situations and teams where people won't stop until they can get the outcome as close to their vision as possible.

In my experience, this is far more likely to happen at small startups where members have reasonable equity to work with, as well as significant career upside for accomplishing the big tasks. Large companies like Google are so big that finding upside or even a niche to influence can seem impossible. Combine that with guaranteed high income and the motivation to do work that goes above and beyond gives way to a motivation to be associated with the right projects at the right time, regardless of your contribution.

When I look back, the happiest time of my career was when I was embedded among people who Really Care, trying to accomplish a goal that was likely to fail, working well over 40 hours a week (my choice), and not getting paid much. I've since moved to much higher compensation at bigger companies, but I'm often tempted to give it up to get back to a situation that sparks that kind of motivation and happiness again.

Definitely a spectrum. I think my Level Of Care is directly proportional to how much impact I can actually have, given where I am on the reporting chain totem pole. Where I am on the totem pole often correlates strongly with salary/equity. If I'm down at the bottom, and my impact is limited to moving protobufs from one level in an abstraction stack to another, and my equity's value ebbs and flows with whatever the company is doing, I'm more of a Just A Job person. If I'm CTO of Oculus, I'm probably much more on the Really Care side, because in that case I probably have significant equity and the things I do might actually affect the company's stock price. Want me to care? Let's talk about where I am on the totem pole and how strongly my actions have a direct impact on the company's success and its stock price.

I am a finance guy... majored in it, worked at Merrill Lynch, and spent the last year building a trading program. I think mergers and acquisitions, venture capital, private equity, etc. actually greatly damage economic growth. Generally all of those finance activities serve to prematurely remove founders from leadership and take skin out of the game.

I think one aspect we're not mentioning is the nature of the projects themselves.

This spectrum of Really Care vs Just A Job isn't entirely accurate. A lot of projects are honestly just hard to "really care" about. The technical work is uninteresting or the mission itself isn't interesting. The monetary goal of success could be the most interesting aspect (i.e. your startup makes it big and you're rich), but the day to day could just not be that compelling.

Over enough time, you will naturally go from a Really Care person to a Just A Job person given the right project environment. The novelty of a job will wear off.

There's no nobility in trying to really care about everything you are paid to do.

> When I look back, the happiest time of my career was when I was embedded among people who Really Care

I think people who Really Care are as much a product of the environment as they are responsible for creating the environment. I Really Care about what I work on, and I try very hard to make it the best option out there, giving it a huge portion of my creative energy and not just keeping my head down and turning a crank, but I also recognize that in the end, it's also just a job.

It is disastrously to Care when you are surrounded by an army that doesn’t.

Why so? I think this is the way to be promoted/lead things. You don't have to live and die with your project but there are definitely a few opportunities that are opening up if "you care and army that doesn't". I believe calling your colleagues "army that doesn't care" is a bit disrespectful and this is what is wrong with "I care so much" people at big companies.

upd: I did generalize "I care so much" people as well; but I do consider myself one.

Examples of what happens when you are an outlier on caring:

- Colleagues push back on providing status, while simultaneously asking for a long roadmap of your future requests.

- Promotions for your best people get blocked by peers because “Not enough time at level, and others will complain”

- Punishment is much higher for picking up a dropped ball “and not following process” than leaving the ball on the floor.

In the end, if you’re outnumbered too much, it’s a road to frustration rather than success.

This sounds like a nuanced view, but I think you have missed the point - we're using terminology that allows for us to talk past each other and that's part of the problem.

At least in my experience, the Just A Job crowd are generally _very_ vocal about their view that this is Just A Job. Their worldview is not compatible with the worldview of people who Really Care. There is a very healthy middle ground of people who (in NON CAPITAL LETTERS) both really care and for whom this is just a job, but they don't _identify_ with those as their primary worldview.

Even if you really care, you can be vocal about things that make it sound as if you don't, in order to e.g. make another developer stop stressing and go home when they've reached the point where they're creating more work than they're getting done, or encourage greater levels of risk-taking by pointing out that the only thing at risk is your job. Perhaps I'm misinterpreting what you're saying, though.

Then consider it a spectrum with Really Care on one end and Just A Job on the other. I don't think it takes away from the original point.

I think the impedence mismatch may also be that among the Really Care group, there are those who think that people in the Just a Job crowd have a sort of moral responsibility to find a job where they Really Care.

That's, imo, an unreasonable requirement, but if you're super passionate about something, I can see why someone might see it.

It's also possible to really care in a way that doesn't match up with what the company wants. Let's say you work at YouTube and really care about the user experience - you probably wouldn't want to introduce first one, then multiple mid-roll ads. If that's your job, "really caring" is going to burn you out.

I don't think you can separate people who really care about their job vs. people who really care about the company they work for and the mission it's on. Part of the problem could be that you loved the job but not the mission of the company, in which case there is almost no outcome that leads to a happy ending. In other words if the company has a worthy mission it almost doesn't matter what the job is.

Along the lines of leaving oculus/fb, can we ask what would have to happen for you to stop using an oculus/fb product?

9 years @ Google, and I too came from a company acquired by Google. (In my case, Google did not keep our product or tech stack around, so.) And yes, I can say many Googlers are entitled. It's a fair descriptor. And the pace of work is slower than a startup. In general.

And I too have many criticisms of Google. But.

Google has entirely different revenue constraints. It can afford an entirely different way of working. That pace allows a more sustainable cadence of development. It can be a more humane place to work, in general.

Google can on the whole accomplish its revenue goals without being a meat grinder. So why be one? I think there is a bit of a problem with this guy's POV where he's come to fetishize the actual process of the making of the sausage versus the sausage itself.

Projects need not be run under insane stress if there's a steady supply of talent and money to make things happen. Google can afford that. Pace will be slower. Perhaps less competitive. But the core business continues to do excellently.

For many of us Google is not an "exciting" place to work. But it's a pretty good job to have and it pays well and gives access to both great benefits and to interesting technology. And that compensation in _most_ people does yield a sense of responsibility for delivery. But maybe not the survival-of-the-fittest-meat-grinder panic that this guy somehow seems to love.

I've worked at 8 different companies and none of them could even hold a candle to Google's pace of work. Everything just works. The quota system works, the identity and authorization system works, observability works, the build and release system works. You can be a productive engineer at Google on day 2 if you read the codelabs on day 1. Nobody at Google has ever needed to have their manager email the Jira admin to get them added to the right group to edit tickets. Nobody at Google has a need to raise a ticket with some ops group in Bengaluru to partition a Kafka topic, renew a certificate, bridge two VPCs, or any of that type of thing. It's almost frictionless. I don't get people who say that Google's pace is slow. I've definitely worked in startups where some kid thought they were ultra-productive with their late-night merges of 20000 lines of untested code, but on longer time scales those startups inevitably ground to a complete standstill under the weight of that debt.

> Nobody at Google has a need to raise a ticket with some ops group in Bengaluru to partition a Kafka topic, renew a certificate, bridge two VPCs, or any of that type of thing.

Except when your team wanted to initially onboard with GOOPS and your request sat in Buganizer for 2 weeks waiting for someone to triage. Uh oh — we're turning down this service next quarter, you will need to go start this onboarding process again with its replacement.

Or when you needed quota in a cell where your product area didn't have Flex. Maybe you can set up a VC with your PARM? Does next week work for your launch plan? Hopefully they can do something for you!

Or when your logs access request sat in GUTS for a month because both of the approvers were on vacation and no, there's not an escalation path.

Or when you needed to change a firewall rule for a project your team inherited which for some reason runs on GCE. Make sure you bring your Ariane link when you open your request. Have ISE reviewed your code? No? ISE currently have a quarter-long backlog, so we're not sure we can grant your firewall exception.

None of these examples are contrived; the weight of the operational bureaucracy is staggering. It may well be that this stuff is felt more on the SRE/Security side around production launches than on the SWE side for experimentation or iterative development, but I struggle with the idea that Google is nimble.

Registered account to reply here, because your complaints feel one sided to me.

Most of what you described i felt as well _sometimes_ for security related stuff, like dedicated machines in that one cluster or an ISE review on short notice--but security related is also somewhat out of the norm and considering that is, Google does a great job.

For "normal" services what you described does not match my experience at all. Even for medium sized infrastructure services mostly everything just works (IME).

Never had a GUTS ticket that was not answered within a business day, but obviously just n=1 sample--imo support staff is mostly amazing.

Sure, things get hairy when you go off the beaten path, but day-to-day infrastructure is not the issue. As a user of Google products I don't care as much about developer velocity as I do them shipping swiss cheese products security-wise. If I have to wait a few months more for some new feature, I'll take that trade-off.

Right, the slothful approval process for log retention and access is a feature, not a bug. It's part of the reason why Google's technical privacy story is incomparable.

That was some T7-9 whining right there. Do you think it's easier to get unplanned compute capacity at some other company?

Well, yes. I was provisioning a new service last week and it took me half an hour of clicking buttons in AWS. Without knowing anything about Google, I would have assumed they'd overprovison compute capacity to save developer time at least for smallish requests, since they literally run their own data centres.

They do. When GP says stuff about not having flex in a cell, that essentially means "has not provisioned any quota whatsoever in that zone". Once you do the baseline work to provision some quota, generally speaking you have a somewhat over-provisioned pool to use for whatever.

The need to run in a particular cell is unusual.

More usual is "I need to run in at least three cells in region R". Thankfully, I never faced the "you need to turn up in cell EX tomorrow" without TPM support.

They do.

5+ yrs @ Google, Google is my 5th company.

Google has all the building blocks for great backend services and front-end development and, if you know where to look and have some experience with them, you can build a rock-solid product in <6mos, also assuming you have a team that can execute and the political will to ship it.

Politics/consensus building is where the real roadblocks lie in Google, and presumably other large companies. Trying to make high-level product & technical decisions when you have 10 stakeholders with 3 VPs, all in different orgs, is serious exercise in patience; months of emails & meetings await you.

Consensus Building really sums up the issue. There's no clear decision maker at Google. There is no Tim Cook or Jeff Bezos. Instead it is a collection of teams in a department.

It is like a democracy, but differs in that you need every single team leader onboard to get anything done vs say 51% of the "vote".

This is far less true than you make it seem, I think. I can think of executives who are very clear decision makers in particular contexts.

But for most engineers, most of the time, you're working well below the level of those executives, and especially if you're engaging with shared infrastructure, the executive who is the final decision maker is Sundar.

For example, I am involved in an issue where 3 ICs whose levels are between 4 and 6 (really this is a simplification), are engaged in dealing with solving a problem. These three ICs are in 3 different PAs, reporting indirectly to 3 different SVPs, who join up at Sundar. It isn't worth it to have the CEO spend time refereeing this decision.

Ultimately this was resolved at the director level, by consensus building, because it would reflect badly on every one of those directors if they failed to resolve it and had to escalate to SVPs or CEOs about something that is, on the company scale, trivial (to be clear this is still a thing that is multiple engineer-years of work, but it's still Google-trivial).

I expect the same is true at Amazon or Apple. Cook and Bezos aren't making every decision. VPs and Directors deal with small potatoes, and most things are small potatoes. The difference may be organizationally that those companies are more siloed and so leaves from different trees interact less often. But this friction also is often intentional and has value (SRE explicitly not reporting up through normal product eng ladders, for example).

The executives are still beholden to supporting teams. Want to launch a new feature that depends on GFE. Looks like the current GFE is end-of-life, but the the new one still isn't ready yet. Let's connect with GFE team on if they'll support the older GFE and accept our CL to launch...<GFE has power to delay your launch right here>

Next up is the documentation. That requires the doc team's approval. Oh they require IL8n, lets go to that team and see where in their queue we are <Doc team has power to delay your launch>.

This same flow occurs across all supporting teams. And it can get complex with Service A depends on Service B, which depends on Service C...and Service C can reject the quota increase delaying your launch...etc.

> I expect the same is true at Amazon or Apple

At amazon you would connect to who everyone reports up to, or whoever has clear decision making authority. You would then provide a written document going over the facts and suggested decisions, and ask they make the call. After that its "disagree and commit".

> The executives are still beholden to supporting teams. Want to launch a new feature that depends on GFE. Looks like the current GFE is end-of-life, but the the new one still isn't ready yet. Let's connect with GFE team on if they'll support the older GFE and accept our CL to launch...<GFE has power to delay your launch right here>

I don't see how this is distinct from what I said, except perhaps that for many teams, the GFE team reports up to a different SVP than you, so the person who you'd connect up via is the CEO, which like I said, doesn't scale for every launch.

If you want to try and escalate your launch up to the CEO, nothing is stopping you, except perhaps your director or VP. But that is itself a signal that perhaps this isn't worth escalating about and that the status quo is acceptable.

There's plenty of red tape and broken processes at Google if you know where to look. I've waited months for a small log schema change to be approved for a yet-unused log topic. CI presubmit runs for tools I worked on routinely took several hours and needed to be manually restarted due to flakes, whereas at Square people would complain if a CI run took more than 10 minutes. The tool for releasing Android Studio SDKs was a broken mess of Python that nobody understood, so they spent 2 years writing a replacement that never came rather than fixing it. I could go on. These things definitely affect your happiness and productivity while working and the pace sure didn't seem fast.

All the reasons you've given for fast pace are tech reasons and I don't think anyone is arguing with that. The author mostly discussed how people reasons is why the pace is slowed down and that's something that's a lot more prevalent at big corporations than at startups.

Wow and yet, they can't really build a single profitable product!

Emphasis on single product as they tend to have 5 apps that do the same thing until they kill off the popular ones.


I came here to say something similar. I'm a founder, I've been a manager and a software engineer, I did 5 years @ Google.

When I hear someone in "upper management / founder / in a position of power over employee's lives" say that what they really needed for their own success was a way to threaten/risk the livelihood of their employees so that they would work harder, it just makes me sad for anyone affected by them.

Yes, sometimes employees need to be fired... but sometimes management also needs restructuring. The truth of the matter is that at a company the size of Google, it gets harder and harder for an individual employee to directly influence success. I think that's mostly because of the policies in place to make sure that employees don't directly *damage* success either.

This means that you have to work within the system you have. An employment contract is two-sided, you're offering something that the employee wants, and they're offering something that you want. If your first reaction when there's a problem is to cut their pay or fire them, then you're the one with the problem, not them.

Yes, there are times you need to fire someone (and I have), but that should be reserved for one of two cases: 1) they are actively damaging the business (e.g. destroying company property, morale, hurting business prospects), or 2) despite your best efforts, they are unable/unwilling to fulfill their side of the contract. Just realize that firing someone has a cost for your company and team as well as for the employee.

I'd rather part ways amicably, finding them something that works for them if possible, and I think what Noam said about managers recommending great employees is unfair both to the managers and the employees. I've had employees who were hard-working and passionate, just not passionate about the project they were working on. When that happens, the best thing you can do for both of you is to find them the fit that works.

Can you build a large company that doesn't get mired down in things like management and governance and legal and policy? I hope to someday get large enough to find out, because I've got some ideas... (Like separating those functions out in the same way there are engineering teams dedicated to software tooling.)

But it requires a will and effort from the top down, and the people who get excited about building billion dollar businesses don't seem to get excited about maintaining them once they get that size.

I came specifically to the comments for this. Yes, great comment from your side as I disagreed with the fire mentality of the article.

Even if sometimes people need to get fired, I’d say it is more important to make a good hire upfront and normally these people should be very capable and adapt to these dynamic environments. Just firing on the quickest difficulty says something about beeing rather a bad manager or not knowing how to hire / what to look for.

I’ve seen many incompetent managers firing their tech leader or program leaders just because it did not meet the set arbitrary delivery goals. By firing them it only reinforced the managing-by-fear way of working and lead to a cover-you-a* mentality that things just became even slower...

Thanks for your comment and I wish there were more managers like you!

I wish I could give you more than one upvote for this.

I work for a huge company. For every person I've worked with who I thought needed to go, there at at least 10 (probably more) who have become ineffective because of management,politics, and bureaucracy.

I had a very different view of "who should be fired" when I joined this company, but I think I've grown up a bit.

>>> employees need to be fired... but sometimes management also needs restructuring

Don’t get the asymmetry. Why no firing for mgmt?

As I was writing that statement, I was sure that someone would ask this very same question, but I think explaining it in the middle of that paragraph would have distracted from the overall point I was making, so here it is apart:

Yes, sometimes management needs firing as well, but in the context of my comment above, we were talking about a case where one employee's performance doesn't match up with the expectations of their manager.

To put it in the context of software engineering, if you have an engineer responsible for ten features in a year, and nine of them are coming along just fine, but the tenth was completely bungled, it would be incredibly rare to think that it was time to fire the engineer over the tenth. You're more likely to restructure things so that the engineer has less of a workload, or has help on the tenth, or maybe even just give them a bad review and make it clear that their performance needs to improve.

Firing a manager has an even greater cost for a company and team than firing an employee because the manager is a representative of the relationship between their employees and the company, so firing a manager also damages that relationship for each of their employees.

This is not exclusive to managers. Other roles like engineering team leads and senior architects also have a greater cost, because they're the employees whose roles have a connection to more people than just themselves.

My take would be Google can afford it for now because they have a web ad monopoly and don’t have to compete.

If they ever lose that, the culture they’ve built will cause them to be destroyed and irrelevant in not that much time.

For now, it’s summer.

I recall watching a news report as a teen about how things used to be pretty chill at Microsoft at its heyday. These days it doesn't seem to have a monopoly on much of anything, but it can still crank out interesting projects.

It doesn't have to be a black-and-white do-or-die.

Microsoft became almost irrelevant under Ballmer or was at least trending that way. Nadella’s turn around is almost miraculous and is itself probably an interesting story. I wouldn’t bet on that as the norm. I’d expect the norm to be more like IBM, RIM, or Nokia.

I agree with most of the article, but one line stuck out to me as particularly wrong:

>”After the acquisition, we have an extremely long project that consumed many of our best engineers to align our data retention policies and tools to Google. I am not saying this is not important BUT this had zero value to our users.”

Good retention policy does provide value to users.


> "When COVID hit and we moved to work from home - a huge amount of complaints began around why cant employees expense food since they are not in the office. While most "real" people were worried about keeping their jobs or finding one, many employees were complaining about expensing their food on top of their salaries/stocks/bonuses."

+1 on this - I find this behavior really irritating, it makes me roll my eyes to see some of the most coddled employees in human history whining about this kind of thing. The most charitable interpretation is its just a normal way for people to bond over some shared thing by complaining about it, but a lot of the complaining feels like more than that.

> "We had lunch in the cafeteria and a Googler online ahead of us was overheard saying “What? Sushi again???” which became our inside joke around entitlement."

> Microsoft became almost irrelevant under Ballmer or was at least trending that way

I'm not Ballmer's biggest fan, but I think he's often sold short (to Nadella's benefit), you'd almost believe Microsoft was tanking, but it grew a lot under Ballmer (mobile failures notwithstanding).

As far as I can tell, Nadella just reprioritized projects that Ballmer launched or shepherded in his boring-but-efficient way: what new tech or project did Satya launch that you can attribute MS's "turnaround" to? IMHO, it's mostly PR/hearts-and-minds stuff, but I quit MS tech a long time ago and haven't been following closely.

In retrospect, I think the Win mobile failures were overblown, the zeitgeist then was mobile would replace desktop/laptop computers, therefore failing on mobile could be fatal to Microsoft, and remained as a stain on Ballmers name. The "post-pc" world suggested by Apple/Jobs never materialized.

In a company the size of Microsoft, reprioritizing projects correctly is how you create a turnaround. He made Azure and Office 365 the central focus of the company just as software revenue growth was shifting to cloud hosting and SaaS, he stopped lighting money on fire trying to resurrect Windows Phone, he pushed Linux and OSS compatibility/development, and he put Phil Spencer in charge of Xbox which has saved the gaming division. He's also made some really nice acquisitions, IMO.

Yep. You looked at the revenues and it was Windows and Office which were clearly not continuing growth areas. Azure was floundering and only targeting .Net. Xbox wasn't doing great. They were flaming out on mobile. They had most of the pieces. They just weren't arranged and prioritized properly.

Azure was originally Windows Azure, but that was changed a month after satyan became the CEO.

(MS employee; I work in Azure, but didn't become an MS employee until 2019.)

See: https://stratechery.com/2018/the-end-of-windows/

I think that article gets most of it. There's some MSFT narrative that comes up here a lot where people say Ballmer was doing great and Nadella just continued his plans, I don't buy it.

MSFT had a lot of strategic failures as well as product failures under Ballmer. Nadella shifted strategy and made them a serious competitor again.

> There's some MSFT narrative that comes up here a lot where people say Ballmer was doing great and Nadella just continued his plans, I don't buy it.

Then it should be easy to say which green-field projects Nadella launched then. I can't think of any, but I'm open to learning.

Sometimes shifting the priority is all it takes.

"made them a serious competitor again?"

They were making money hand over fist, massive growth in revenues almost ever year under Ballmer. [1]

Which part of that massive money train is 'not serious competitor'?

[1] https://www.statista.com/statistics/267805/microsofts-global...

I'm open to being wrong here and I'd agree that my initial comment was stated in a provocative way, but let me clarify a bit.

Revenue growth isn't the whole story. If you're extracting rents from legacy locked-in products or enterprise deals that doesn't necessarily mean you're a competitor on the new paradigms (phone, cloud, web).

At the time Windows phone was a failure and they missed that entire platform because of Ballmer (there's hints of your argument in this video, "we're making money with windows mobile"): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eywi0h_Y5_U

MSFT cloud wasn't doing well and was overly focused on .NET

They were too focused on Windows rather than recognizing the strategic value they could provide outside of it: https://stratechery.com/2018/the-end-of-windows/

Today I'd make a similar argument for Intel. Intel doubled down on old style fabs and is not competitive with TSMC. They failed to compete on mobile. They're ignoring the end of x86 and mocking Apple: https://hardware.slashdot.org/story/21/02/08/2221233/intel-b...

Increasing revenue is a good sign, but it matters how. If you're making short-term decisions to extract money from legacy stuff at the expense of new products - that's bad for your long-term future. It can take a while to catch up to you, but it eventually will. Then you'll just limp a long as a dinosaur that makes enough money to survive but nobody really wants to work there and you're done doing interesting projects. That's basically what I mean by irrelevant.

I see where you want to go with that, but I'm not sure you made the argument you're trying to make.

Ballmer didn't 'make money from extracting rents and screw everything else up'.

Ballmer entrenched and expanded MS core products i.e. Office to the Cloud and along with that massively expanded revenues, which continue to this day, long after his departure, with no signs of slowing down.

He completely screwed up Search and Mobile, but those were risky new things, that's to be expected. Frankly he should have had 1 of 2 ...

But he also established XBox and Cloud; the former is a very successful play into a very difficult space (though maybe not as nice in terms of profits) - remember, Google just completely failed at this. The later, is now a hugely successful and growing business, and frankly, over the long haul has a shot at actually going toe-to-toe with Amazon.

Microsoft has 10's of thousands of sales people and direct access to every single CTO in the world if companies with > 1000 emoloyees. Much the same way they are going to stomp Slack, they have that kind of advantage (though not the same leverage) against AWS. Point being - he started a massive business.

Azure now has revenues of more than Windows did when Ballmer started, and it's growing by 40% YoY.

So yes 'revenue' is not the 'whole story' if someone is bilking a cache cow and running everything else into the ground ... but that's now what happened.

Ballmer 'grew and entrenched the cash cows' and made some other huge bets, some of them working out to the point where they are now also, big growing foundational aspects of the business.

'The Market' took a long time to recognize this, but all the historical sales numbers are there for everyone to see.

I believe that once Analysts realized that 1) Windows and Office is 'here to stay' and 2) due to AWS, Azure is going to be huge ... that they revised their view on MSFT from a 'old company' to a 'well run growth company'.

Satya seems great and has made some good moves, but nothing of the magnitude that Ballmer did. At least not yet.

Some of the best quarters for Nokia & co were just before they went under so that's not a solid reference point, unfortunately.

It's a solid reference point because we now have a lot of history to look back upon, and those revenues were from foundational businesses.

Satya's changes have been positive but most of the money he is making is due to Gates + Ballmer.

I think he's good but we'll have to wait to see the full picture.

Nadella I think brought focus on ideas and prioritization that complimented Ballmer's ideas. He doesn't need to launch new projects, but ensure they are managed into a place of relevance. In that regard, it really showcases the excellent people MSFT has in the chain and how they can help each other get to where they collectively want to go.

>The "post-pc" world suggested by Apple/Jobs never materialized.

Clearly, it was in Apple's interest to emphasize the ascendance of mobile where they were strong vs. the PC where Microsoft was. I doubt Jobs thought desktops/laptops were going away, just that they'd become a less important part of the landscape--and that's almost certainly true among consumers as a whole.

"The "post-pc" world suggested by Apple/Jobs never materialized."

I think if you could measure the man hours spent using iDevices and Android devices, as a percentage of general computing hours, you'd find that it would dwarf anything. Everyone has a smartphone now. And tablet sales alone outnumber PCs.

You may be right, but the implied threat to Microsoft was that most/all Windows user's interactions would be mediated by iOS/Android apps, which would displace Windows apps and the browser. Fortunately for Microsoft, the latter didn't happen, and what at first appeared to be exponential app downloads turned out to be an S-Curve. It turns out people have a maximum number of apps they are willing to install and put up with, but this was not yet known at the height of the mobile wars when Microsoft was fighting to be #3.

I am sure someone inside Microsoft saw this early, and figured that Azure could be a platform-agnostic backend to mobile apps and browser-based apps, without having to completing with Apple since they lack core-competences there. Pivotally, tablets failed to replace desktops in the enterprise market, as was initially predicted (and feared by Microsoft).

From my point of view, the things I've most "noticed" coming from MS that are great seem to all have been launched/started during Ballmer's days (2000-2014). For me those are:

Office/Word Online (2010)

Azure (2008/2010)

WSL (Can't find info. Looks like it started before 2014 under Project Astoria)

.Net Core (Happened in 2014 - not sure who "started it")

>The "post-pc" world suggested by Apple/Jobs never materialized.

This is a very US/EU centric evaluation of computing. It might not even be accurate for Gen Z, overall.

Stratchery did a nice piece on this: https://stratechery.com/2018/the-end-of-windows/

That stratechery piece confirms that a number of Satya's "quick wins" were projects mostly developed under Ballmer but credited to Nadella... Which is exactly my point - that Ballmer doesn't always get the credit he deserves, for the sake of magnifying the contrasts between the 2 leaders.

I don't know about this. I think great engineers delete more code than they write. Perhaps something similar is relevant here.

> I think great engineers delete more code than they write.

...but someone has to write the code first, before some of it can be deleted by a great engineer ;)

If it wasn't there before, the great engineer could do something more useful than deleting code!

MSFT "irrelevant" ... ah, ok, so you're just measuring capturing zeitgeist vs. sustainability of the business model ... ok

MSFT revenue has NEVER stopped growing: https://www.macrotrends.net/stocks/charts/MSFT/microsoft/rev...

I somewhat sympathize with those living in a small apartment who used to walk, take a shuttle bus, take the subway, etc. to work where they were fed 5 days a week or more--and now they're stuck in their small apartments with most restaurants closed and facing the prospect of maybe having to move to a bigger place. So one can choose to interpret complaints about meal expensing in that vein.

That said, in general, at least for the well-paid workers at these companies, complaints about insufficient expense reimbursement like that come across as pretty whiny.

My apartment in SF does not have a kitchen. Food provided by the company helped me get by! With no car, and only a handful of restaurant options within 1 mile, it's not the easiest to get by without a company cafeteria. I can sympathize with why many people would like to be able to expense food.

What does expensing have to do with your situation though? You seem to have an issue with access to food rather than how much it costs. How does the company giving you some more money help with that?

In my mind the company provides food as a perk in part so people hang around and chat without leaving the office, it also makes it more pleasant to work there.

It’s not to feed you in your own home.

Sure. That's why they do it. (Along with the fact that it's an expected perk in some circles.) Which is also why paying a meal per diem doesn't make a lot of sense. But it's also somewhat understandable why there would be a bit of grumbling about a benefit being taken away, however unavoidably.

Of course, for many employees, the elimination of commuting makes remote work a significant win financially. But others never intended to do much more than sleep in their apartments and the current situation is therefore a net negative, even just financially.

That's still a ton of entitlement...

"Oh no! I make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, and I have to live in my tiny apartment, buy food, and I might have to get a bigger apartment."


"Oh no! I don't have a job, and I'm about to lose my apartment because I can't pay rent."

I get pretty tired of this back and forth arguing in circles over who is more entitled than whom, who has more of a right to complain, who is the most aggrieved, who has the biggest disadvantage to brag about.

Really nobody has a right to ask for anything, ever, because there's always someone who has it worse, right? The only legitimate rung of the ladder is the bottom one, and we just keep finding lower rungs to use to shame anyone higher?

Sure, there are people who live charmed lives and just don't understand what the big deal is because nothing has ever gone wrong for them. They sure as heck aren't me. But let's all just stop with the tone policing. It's 100% unproductive, and won't change anything about anybody's situation, good or bad.

"I have an apartment and a bank account right now."


"I live in a tent encampment."


"I live in a shantytown in a third-world country."


"I am on death row."


"I am on death row for a crime I didn't commit."


It's important to try to maintain perspective about our own good fortunes. But it's also human nature to feel our own pain as relative to our previous experience. Someone's always got it worse than you but that doesn't mean it's fair to expect everyone else to wander around farting rainbows with grins plastered to their faces.

All of the Googlers I know are well aware of the many ways in which we're fortunate and privileged. But we're also, you know, human, and occasionally whining about stuff is just part of the human experience.

Lots of people at Google, including many developers, don't make "hundreds of thousands of dollars." It's also just a unilateral change in the terms of their employment (unavoidable as it is during the current times) that might increase their costs by $25K? after taxes. That other people have it much worse doesn't change the fact that a fair number of people are seeing a change from what they agreed to.

Out of ~600 or some comments, this wins the award!

Thank you for really getting to the point of this article.

But I would add...

I left my job etc, but now I going to stand on soap box and write an article about and make myself sound so self righteous.

I like how living in the close proximity to the city center might seem somehow special from the perspective of suburban oriented culture even though it is usually a norm in Europe.

I don't know about that. Was MS ever not filthy profitable? They are very successful with azure, was that started by balmer or nadella?

People here give MS too little credit. Their reach is MASSIVE. No american company has the world wide reach that MS has. Practically every enterprise in the world is their customer.

Profit is a lagging indicator that often leads companies astray with short-term decision making at the expense of long-term relevance.

Look at Apple before the return of Jobs (though at that point, they were having profit issues too - but what lead to that was arguably short-term thinking).

Today, I'd argue Intel has made similar decisions that put them on a bad long term path.

MS would have stayed alive for a while, but been a shadow of their former self.

Obviously, it's hard to prove a counterfactual like this - but this is how I model it.

Enterprises are the slowest to change of all and this is MS bread and butter. I completely disagree MS was ever close to becoming irrelevant. Silicon valley is in it's own little world. The rest of the planet is firmly a MS customer.

MS can take all the good ideas, implement them and sell them worldwide before a startup can get out of silicon valley. Case in point: slack vs. teams.

Arguably that focus on O365 and Azure - the strategy that enabled Teams success was due to Nadella.

You're right though - 'irrelevant' is too provocative and strongly worded.

I'm more focused on future bets and trends. I think that trend shifted at Microsoft from trending towards future irrelevance back in the other direction, to being a competitive threat again.


I find it interesting that Apple has money, hardware, OS, many apps, web presence. And now ARM CPU knowhow.

Why aren't they forcibly pushing into Corporate?

Sure, they'd have to develop corporate fleet management stuff but at this stage they could buy a few companies and be 80% of the way there. Or build it right from the start for only a handful of their hundreds of billions.

How many iphone toting CTOs in your average non-silicon valley companies would jump for Apple "Just Works" in their business?

Either they see something they don't like or a Gates/Jobs handshake said no.

Because Apple is fundamentally a consumer company. The marketing and branding that are huge drivers of their success just won’t work as well in the enterprise.

Enterprise means people in suits doing sales calls. It’s a patient, one-on-one, handholding process, and it’s just not in Apple’s DNA.

Far better for them to come up with some new consumer widget that also leverages their strength in supply chain. That’s what they’re good at, and it’s extraordinarily profitable.

While I largely agree with you, Apple can manage more than two things at once and money talks.

Microsoft obviously has large corporate presence, but also Xbox for example.

I just see so many already operational/technical/financial/branding assets in Apples favour compared to incumbents that I'm not sure how they'd fail to make money. OTOH, someone smarter than me in the company clearly thinks otherwise. I just wish I knew what they knew.

Maybe it is as you say, "just not Apple's DNA."

I really hate this narrative that Nadella came in and turned things around. He's absolutely made great decisions since taking the reins but most of his early success was just riding out things that Ballmer set in motion.

Not to mention most of Ballmer's misses were more Bill said no.

> "+1 on this - I find this behavior really irritating, it makes me roll my eyes to see some of the most coddled employees in human history whining about this kind of thing. The most charitable interpretation is its just a normal way for people to bond over some shared thing by complaining about it, but a lot of the complaining feels like more than that."

The charitable interpretation is that total compensation has just dropped, while the work hasn't. It's Loss Aversion[1], losing something hurts more than gaining the equivalent thing. Google isn't suffering from people staying at home using the internet more, it's not like Google cut manager salaries by 50% to keep the factory lights on and the orphans fed. Google's share price is up at least 50% since Jan 2020, and they've taken away some thousands of dollars of remuneration from staff and saved money on not having to run kitchens, and are demanding that staff feel grateful about this by handwaving at suffering people elsewhere.

> ">”After the acquisition, we have an extremely long project that consumed many of our best engineers to align our data retention policies and tools to Google. I am not saying this is not important BUT this had zero value to our users.”"

Calling legal and privacy efforts "a waste of resources" and saying they provide "zero value" /is/ saying they are not important.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loss_aversion

>> “What? Sushi again???”

Could that be just someone not liking sushi? As someone who doesn't like sushi and rather eat hotdog form gas station, I could see myself saying that.

These are Google cafes we're talking about, there are literally ten different main courses on offer. The whining is about there being "sushi again" at the Asian station when they wanted ramen, and they don't want to switch to curry, pizza, pasta, bouillabaisse, tacos or the salad bar, or walk across the street to another cafe.

It’s always seemed like more of a hassle to expense lunch/dinner etc. given what we’re getting paid.

Who the hell wants to deal with concur for every lunch?!

Then again, if your only goal is to extract as much money as possible from the corporate machine, it might work.

at my old job (roughly 60 people) the company just got regular lunch ingredients (usually some meats, cheese and just normal bread) for the entire company. culturally it was expected everyone had lunch in the common area from this stockpile. costs for this where deducted from your pay, but because it was bought at suchs a large scale it was very cheap compared to buying your own lunch or making it at home. (roughly 20€ per month I believe).

this system worked pretty nice imo, lunch wasn't anything fancy but it was healthy, cheap and having lunch with coworkers from other departments helped massively in regards to culture.

> why cant employees expense food since they are not in the office

This is surprisingly not specific to Google. I've heard of other instances of this in other bay area companies, including mine. For us, it had to be put to rest at a company-wide all-hands meeting, along with other overly entitled complaints like "comp is not competitive", when in reality levels.fyi ranks it higher than even FAANG.

Greed sometimes defies logic.

"Microsoft became almost irrelevant under Ballmer or was at least trending that way. Nadella’s turn around is almost miraculous "

This is definitely not true.

Ballmer increased revenues massively, and launched a slew of new products (XBox, MS Live, cloud etc.) and realigned the company. Have a look [1]

Nadella has done nothing approaching that level of importance yet, so far, he is riding the wave that was handed to him.

Now the stock price - this is a different thing. It sagged under Ballmer even as MSFT was massively growing revenues, around Naella's time investors realized that MS 'was not fading' and all that extra EPS was like a share price slingshot.

Ballmer was as transformative and important as Gates.

Nadella's early transformations were around culture, but that's just PR.

[1] https://www.statista.com/statistics/267805/microsofts-global...

Arguably the stock price is a prediction of future success, not current revenue.

The fact that it sagged under Ballmer and is now up under Nadella aligns with how I'm framing things. I suppose you could argue that's entirely PR, but I don't think that's the case.

People thought MSFT under Ballmer was trending down, now they think it's trending up. I'd argue that's due to strategic shifts that happened once Ballmer left.

I've mentioned in other comments that revenue (while good) isn't the whole story.

>Arguably the stock price is a prediction of future success

Sure, the stock price is always a prediction of future success. But it can change overnight, and when it does, it's not because reality or the "facts on the ground" changed overnight (usually) it's because perception changed. Often if not always because a catalyst made people aware of something that was building for a fair amount of time.

>strategic shifts that happened once Ballmer left.

I'm not saying this is wrong, but I don't think it's appropriate to treat the stock price as evidence of it.

That's a good point but it wasn't really 'Ballmer' - it was the existential changes in the industry.

I believe if Ballmer had of hung on for a few more years, that change would have happened eventually.

Investors eventually would realize 'This is not just Windows and Office'.

I think this is our core disagreement distilled down.

I think Ballmer couldn’t have done it, he was too tied up personally in windows.

Some of the examples you mention under Ballmer are more examples of strategic failure under his watch. Xbox is the easiest example, the Xbox One’s launch was awful and focus on cable boxes was bad.

I don’t think it took a while for investors to realize, I think investors had an accurate model of what was going on. When Ballmer left things improved.

We have hindsight: the changes Ballmer made to increase revenue were not 'one offs' they were substantial.

1) He reconstituted Windows and Office distribution, sales, put office on the cloud.

2) He launched XBox and more notable Azure.

So if you think 'Desktop is dying' (desktop sales were plateauing) then 1 seems like it's going away and cloud isn't a huge business then 2 doesn't matter.

But the prediction was wrong:

A) Even with flatlining desktop sales, Win + Office continued to thrive. Even to this day. It's not a 'legacy business' it's a 'healthy ongoing business.

B) XBox, in particular Azure are huge. Azure makes more money today than Windows generated in revenue when Ballmer took over Microsoft.

Ballmer's failures were mostly Search and Mobile ... both of which were sad, but also they were up against Google Search and iPhone, the best products of our era. XBox and Azure are in very difficult areas, and are doing well.

In hindsight, Ballmer did quite well, there's not a lot to debate unless someone things that Search/Mobile success should have been imminent, but I don't think that's true.

He massively grew and adapted the baseline businesses, and started a few new, huge businesses. Glorious profits all around.

Satya hasn't yet quite made the kind of decisions that will have the lasting impact Ballmer has had, in his defence, he's in an era were the 'new fields of competition' are less obvious.

Azure is huge and a really big deal - I just don't attribute that success to Ballmer. It may have started under his watch, but it was floundering - I think that's one of the things Nadella deserves credit for making successful.

Windows + Office is a legacy product line. It makes money, but it's not the future. They need it obviously, but over-focusing on that at the expense of other things was a mistake.

The Xbox launched in 2001 - was the original one even Ballmer? I think Gates left in 2000? I'm not sure that counts. Xbox One launch/strategy was bad.

I'm not trying to say he did nothing right, but I think we just disagree on his overall performance.

Microsoft has, imo, a monopoly of sorts on two critical pieces. 1. Its ability to permeate Enterprise, 2. Its channel strategy/network.

What comes to mind most recently? See Slack.

MSFT is still known for good WLB. Just check places like Blind to get an idea of the corporate culture of a company. There are certainly hard teams/jobs at MSFT but it seems on average that the WLB at MSFT is super good.

Wasn't Microsoft widely regarded as a bit of a meat grinder in the Ballmer days due to stack ranking?

that happened after nadella changed course from the balmer years. It is not always the case that a new CEO can turn around the company (for example see GE).

See also SUNW. McNealy imported the 6Sigma thing from GE, at one time it infected even teams not involved in manufacturing. MSFT had the best outcome for giants of the aughts. It is too bad OpenSolaris was left for dead, otherwise we'd have some choices and competition in *nix OS. AIX, dead. HP-UX, dead. Can't recall the DEC, Ultrix? Who runs that anymore. The last time I saw BSD commercially used was at a telco.

A lot of my early jobs were porting various Unix things to Linux. I spent time writing cross platform C++, perl, and bash on Solaris, IRIX, HP-UNIX, and DEC Tru46, but mostly Solaris and IRIX.

I gotta say, all those Unices fucking sucked. The userland tools were abysmal, with missing flags or bugs in their getopts, the compilers and their sockets libraries were extremely finicky, and their man pages were anemic.

GNU/Linux won because if something sucked, somebody somewhere would fix it. By the early 2000s, and especially after Linux 2.6, it was obvious closed-source UNIX was both worse and overpriced.

Even now it seems like the best part of the closed source MacOS Unix stack is the open source homebrew/macports stuff.

Agree with you that tooling was abysmal but all of those *nix had their bright flowering that subsequently pollinated other *nixes. AIX service management (SRC I think?) eventually saw life in Solaris as SMF. BSD jails reborn as containers. The HP-UX had batch job management that was very good. Solaris ABI/API compat between versions was exemplary, you can count on the OS upgrade not breaking your application. When the compiler was still being sold (thousands of dollars by the seat license), it was optimized for the SPARC processor and outperformed same code compiled by the GNU compiler. I wish we had all of that still.

Apropos of the "curated App Store" or "free-for-all" discussion currently active, I remember talking to a colleague in the early 2000s that Apple with its curated BSD-derivative OS was exactly what open sourced OSes needed. Users don't want to do more work than necessary; in retrospect, the selling point that users can do anything+everything with *nix OS was the wrong message.

You didn't mention package management and network booting to be pain points. They were nightmares, which Linux eventually solved. I think that's where the race was lost.

You're assuming the rest of the world is different but it isn't. There's a massive amount of companies where working pace is very slow. A large percentage of employees do barely anything and these companies exist forever.

This is something that was unknown to me until a few years ago and I believe it's unknown to many in the tech industry. I make a close to Google-level salary in my position (say, 85% of it) in a tech company and I barely do any work (or better, I do some work for some hours a week). Little accountability, zero stress. And when I say "I barely do any work", I mean that when I hear start-up people ridiculing the typical Google senior-and-up IC who works 30-35 hours a week with weekends off, I say to myself: that's crazy, what would they think of me working (barely) 1/3 of those hours? Would I be the village idiot?

There is always some drops fear trying to find a way up my limbic system whispering to me that one day this will be over. One day, I will have to work for real again and I will have to pass tough interviews and have new, possibly demanding bosses. But this has been going for more than 4 splendid years, very long-termism tend to make one's life pretty dull, and my dream is to open a bicycle shop anyway.

As a famous ad campaign used to suggest: "Think different".

Don't get complacent. I've been where you are, and when the party is over you're going to have a hell of a hangover unless you can ride that job to retirement. Relearning how to compete after a few years of coasting is brutal. I was just past 40 when my gravy train derailed. The slack years were fun but they went by fast. Compensation for a job is about more than money. It's about where you end up as a person when the job is over.

That's a good point and that's the drop of fear climbing making his way up to my brain. But I interview around, I got some offers that I have declined so far and I do some work, just a few hours a week.

You wrote: "Compensation for a job is about more than money. It's about where you end up as a person when the job is over.". It sounds good in theory, but in practice? Should I switch job, maybe/likely accepting less money and more stress in the coal train now because when the luxury train stops I will be in a better place (I am exaggerating for conversation purposes)? I have my doubts. This is specific to my situation and I don't want to explain too much (and that's why I use a throwaway account), but outside of the US that would sound bizarre. Switching from a cushy well-payed job to a demanding, paying-less job because in a few months/years it will be over? Yes, maybe I will get rusty here and there, but I can move to Tulum for 3 months and get ready for interviews, no?

EDIT: typo

I didn't say you should quit your job. Ride that train as long as you can. I'm saying you should manage yourself. If you only work half the day, spend the other half of the day:

- Look for opportunities to contribute more at your job. Don't wait for a manager to tell you what to do. Rewrite some code. Propose a new feature. Improve the documentation. Write more tests.

- Teach yourself new skills. Don't just skim books on new languages/technologies. Develop a personal project and pretend like you're being paid to work on it.

- Take practice coding tests. Stay up to date with relevent skills.

Enjoy the job you have now, but keep yourself ready for the day when that job goes away. I had a very easy job for about 6 years. I automated most of my job and effectively did not have a boss. I made great money and spent most of my time working on hobbies, hiking, or working on my house. When the job ended I suddenly realized all of my skills were rusty. I regret wasting all of that time, and wish I would have used it to better myself.

All very good points. However, if you do (1) (Look for opportunities at work), you don't have the time and energy for (2) and (3) with the regularity needed for making serious advances. At that point, you have a well-paid, non-stressful, truly full-time job. I would skip (1) and keep mostly (3) (well, that's what I do, more than advice. A pat on my shoulder, if you will). They are not paying you more, the more you do, the more troubles, stress, and annoyances you call in your direction, and when the tide turns, it is not that they are looking at some code review you did or improved documentation you wrote to keep you onboard.

As I like to say: there is no second life, the only one that was build was virtual and "failed".

Yeah I didn't mean to suggest doing all 1, 2 and 3. Pick one. Do something for at least half of your idle time, and do it with purpose.

> when the tide turns, it is not that they are looking at some code review you did or improved documentation you wrote to keep you onboard.

I mostly disagree, but it depends on your employer. As a senior engineer, I very much have the opportunity to differentiate myself and protect my position longer than others. I lost my easy job to lower paid, lower skilled engineer because I chose not to put in the work which would have defined my role as a more difficult one. It was easy to replace me when the time came because I allowed the scope of my role to shrink to menial tasks which did not require much thought.

> I can move to Tulum for 3 months and get ready for interviews, no?

I've worked with plenty of sysadmins who suddenly had no choice but to become software engineers. That learning is brutal for some of them–years long process, maybe never. 3 months may not be enough if you coast for long enough.

Honest question from an eng working the last few decades at a FAANG and finding themselves burnt out to the point of panic attacks some mornings (e.g. "can I keep going at this pressure"; which has me laughing at least a little about the "FAANG is easy" sentiment elsewhere in the thread)

Where? How do I find jobs like this?

I get what the sister comment points out about long-term stagnation, but at the same time, I could desperately use a few years without a resume gap, but without a perpetual dagger hanging over my head.

There are plenty of high-revenue companies looking for people with prestigious backgrounds in a non-explicitly-called-that-way advisory role. It is not difficult to find jobs like those in general, but IMO most FAANG people lack the finesse needed to understand how to position themselves and understand what other people want, which, most of the time, are not the coding skills.

Panic attacks are brutal and getting employees to the point of having panic attacks is part of what is wrong in the tech world. And it happens, in big corps, because some people want to advance at the expense of others.

Very true on the last part. There are some quotes I'd love to share from mentors in the space but that would ID me too tightly.

Would you say that any particular background and skill set or credentials/laurels (publishing? writing? speaking? management? management at a certain level?) sets you up most appropriately for getting this sort of role? Basically, how do I take any actionable steps to find those positions or move in that direction.

Certainly the FAANG-er needs to be in a senior role. To have a less stressful job, you need to look for senior- IC work, not management. Coming from management would be ok, but mostly companies I am talking about are looking for technical guidance or, more likely, reassurance. Publishing is helpful only if in the very specific area they are interested about.

As to how to find those positions, my recommendation would be to look for (1) high-revenue, big companies (they have the money and they have the space), (2) going through some sort of transformation (moving to the cloud, opening a new business area), and (3) need prestige, both internally and externally.

You can find those jobs in job ads, but you need to look at the ad written most of the time by a semi-clueless recruiter through the lens of points (1-3) above.

This is mostly because at (a lot of) these places - there is no reward for doing any work. You don't get promoted if you do a good job. If you get a raise, it's like an extra $1k a year.

You get little more than a pat on the back.

in my personnal experience, the only kind of companies that are really comfortable to employees (in terms of perks) and adopt a slow rythm, are benefiting from some kind of monopolistic, regulatory situation.

Either public sector companies, or banks & insurance whose business model can't be disrupted that easily because of regulatory pressures.

Giant IT companies from the valley that successfully built a way to lock down users are the other example.

could also be a niche market product created a decade ago that some other large company depends on. money keeps rolling in with little effort. source: personal experience. the company is no longer in operation but it lasted for a god 30 years.

another example is a company which is highly specialised in making a certain thing. (for instance some kind of widget for a specific kind of industrial machine). usually demand is stable enough to keep the company healthy for a long time, but scale up is not necessary because the demand isn't there.

Except that Google was known for all these perks, 20% time (I wonder what this guy would think about someone wasting ONE DAY A WEEK for something not on his project?!), good food, etc. pretty much since inception.

Isn't that why so many people flocked there to work in the first place?

I’d say most people flocked there for prestige and compensation. Perks were just icing on the cake.

How many employees do the FAANGs have ? Must be above 100K spread over the world. Even 5K talented engineers are enough for all the (admittedly superb) software they build and sell. With those profits still up, the rest of the employees can just be coasting along, endlessly arguing about things.

> Google can on the whole accomplish its revenue goals without being a meat grinder. So why be one?

This is a great take. I've worked in a place where the revenue was astronomical, to the point where the entire company could probably do nothing for 100 years and still be viable, yet it was run like a meat grinder, where everyone did insane hours and you always worried that it wouldn't be enough and you would be stack ranked out of a job. Truly awful, because it was so unnecessary. On the other hand, I've worked for a start-up with a visibly short runway, where it was obvious to everyone that if everyone didn't bust their asses, the company would fail. At least there you have an actual reason to be a meat grinder.

I think a lot of companies could succeed yearly and make Wall Street happy and still not be a meat grinder, but some sick, stubborn cultural norm makes "meat grinder" the default mode of operation.

What the author said was a typical challenge in big enough company. Big companies over hire as time goes by, and the number of teams eventually outgrows the quantity of work. As a result, you have meetings all day to align, to coordinate, and to drive. The bigger an organization is, the more you hear about such phrases, and the more time you spend in meetings. BTW, I dare you to take away those meetings - so many people need those meetings to "assert influence", to get visibility, and to be promoted. In a large organization, people focus on Produktionsverhältnisse, aka relation of production, instead of production itself.

This is also why the Bay Area is a truly great place to live in. So many small companies are there for us to choose. They move fast yet have reasonable work-life balance. They offer great financial perspective too, which can be far better than big companies if one's lucky.

Of course, I'm not saying big companies are all bad. Indeed, some people are great at navigating company dynamics. They build solid relationship in a complex environment. They make things happen despite bureaucracy. They lead multiple teams to achieve impossibles. They cut through red tapes like hot knife cutting through butter. They build a company to last.

So, the real question one should ask is: which type of person am I?

> Big companies over hire as time goes by, and the number of teams eventually outgrows the quantity of work. As a result, you have meetings all day to align, to coordinate, and to drive. The bigger an organization is, the more you hear about such phrases, and the more time you spend in meetings. BTW, I dare you to take away those meetings - so many people need those meetings to "assert influence", to get visibility, and to be promoted.

I think this is overly cynical. Big companies are typically further along the complexity curve. Complexity in engineering, but also sales, marketing, support, and growth opportunities (that is, growing revenue 25% is typically easier when you're revenue is $100K versus $100M).

That said, they are real differences. A lot of people aren't going to enjoy that type of work, and will opt-out of it. But a lot of the lower-risk, better pay will be in this space (a startup is high-risk, potentially incredible payout).

The problem is that it can hurt your career, especially if you've never worked anywhere else. (random guess: somewhere between 15% and 30% of the workforce falls in that category)

You can learn the wrong lessons: you learn how to go up for promotion rather than build things that work for users.

In the last 10 years it's become extremely common at Google do work that is simply thrown away (because of issues above your pay grade). You could work at Google for 5 years and nothing you worked on ever sees the light of day. That is a problem.

You don't learn what works when your work gets thrown away. You can still get promoted anyway. So why do the work? Just pretend you did it. (It's usually not as black-and-white as that; employees are usually well intentioned but then are surprised when the work that was hyped up by management gets suddenly thrown away.)

I'd say that if you want to have a good career as an engineer, you should focus exclusively on building things from 22 to 26 (or whatever your first 4 years are). If you miss a year or 2 of that because of corporate politics, then you missed a lot of learning, and you may be unqualified for future jobs.

There is legitimately a lot to learn about writing software on the job -- IMO it's more than the equivalent of another 4 year CS degree.


This is probably the best description of it that I've read (after working there myself for over a decade and seeing the change in values):

https://mtlynch.io/why-i-quit-google/ https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=16483241

I heard someone describe grad school as "17th grade" for some people with the wrong attitude. Google might be "21st grade" for others. That is, you're following metrics set up by an organization -- getting "graded" -- rather than building things for "the world".

The way some Google employees speak about "the world" highlights that disconnect. (e.g. the wearables thing on the front page yesterday was mocked)

To be fair, this is how things work at most jobs. If you work at a big bank or insurance company, you don't really care about "customers" either -- they are too far away from you. You care about what your boss thinks and his or her boss. This is sort of the "default" configuration of society.

Yes, well, I agree with all those criticisms. It's been 9 years of frustration for me, here at Google. But that's not what my comment was about. I took issue with his griping that he couldn't hire and fire and drive a meat grinder. To me that's an entirely other kind of dysfunction...

Perf at Google is broken. But I think it's endemic to large companies, probably. I only worked at smaller ones before. I worked for some that were meat grinders, and others that were better.

Isn't there a place for this kind of fetish? It doesn't need to be in today's Google (but maybe in 5 year old Google).

> Google can on the whole accomplish its revenue goals without being a meat grinder. So why be one?

I too hope Google can prove that this state can be maintained after certain quasi-monopolies it holds start to vanish...

I agree that there's a place (probably not Google) for this attitude, and my impression is that this is the realization that the author eventually arrived at: he wouldn't change Google, or change his nature, so he had to leave. Even though his frustration was clear, the message that came through for me was not simply "Google is bad" but more "Google and I are too different to work together". A lot of what he dislikes about Google is true of any large company.

Although, he was very critical of Googlers' entitlement in particular. This is a real issue, especially among those who have never worked elsewhere, but IME people are more self-aware about it than he implies.

> A lot of what he dislikes about Google is true of any large company.

Lol, yeah. A lot of what he said made me nod along :)

Great dissection and incision of the OP's "fetishizing of the actual process of the making of the sausage vs the sausage itself."

Creativity requires space. Space between work and space to think, be it on a yoga mat at 12 PM or a 4 PM refresher.

A lack of any real time pressure may lead to unusual or unjustifiable architecture decisions, or needless complexity. It's true that not every place needs to be a meat grinder, but you should timebox your projects.

There's a difference between time pressure and burning out your employees. I believe the present is referring to the latter.

I think his derision of entitled ladder-climbing employees is valid from the perspective of someone who sees "building something valuable" as the point of employment.

There is a whole community however that sees wealth acquisition as the point of employment. Even if it's "merely" joining the ranks of the top 5% this is lauded as success by many. Lawyers, doctors, consultants, stock traders, all the high paying professions have people who subscribe to this philosophy. "I want to provide the best life possible for my family" might be the primary goal. Lower status/pay professions might describe this as what a "job" is as opposed to a "career". Something you do for money.

Many hackers want to both provide the best possible life for their families and participate in a grand adventure of changing the world by creating something people want. I am infected with this mentality. But this might be considered a delusion of grandeur by many, or egotism.

It's hard to empathize with a group who doesn't share a drive you see as essential for good character, but that lack of empathy is what is drawing people's scorn here.

It’s not the drive that is unshared, it’s the incentives. He seems to vaguely understand that his employee’s incentives at Google are different from his own, and seems resent them for it even though his pay is probably an order of magnitude higher than theirs.

When he talks about perfect alignment between employees and investors in the start up world, he is believing his own sales pitch. In reality the same divide exists there too.

Yea, this seems like a 'scissor' issue where you're going to see the two ends being "I want a project where I care about it and I want to make an impact and personal sacrifices are worth it to make that impact" and "I will never truly be passionate about this, this is an economic transaction where I exchange life for money, and I'm going to try to get the best deal I can."

If you're talking about building a team, having people with similar goals is always important. This guy wants a team with the "we're gonna change the world" view. You're not going to do well on a team like that if you're just looking to maximize the salary/effort ratio.

I think one of the reason people get annoyed at stuff like this is that a lot of people been sold a "we're gonna change the world" vision that turns out to just be some recruiter or manager's excitement and end up parsing TPS reports for below average salary. True change the world opportunities rarely come via a recruiter or job board.

> I think his derision of entitled ladder-climbing employees is valid from the perspective of someone who sees "building something valuable" as the point of employment.

Call me cynical and jaded, but I don't believe "building something valuable" is the point of employment.

"Building something valuable" is the point of my vocation. I used to believe that the employment and vocation should align. Over the course of more than 20 years of my professional career, the vast majority of the employers I've had have done their best to disabuse me of that notion.

The way I see it, the point of employment is to ensure you have the money and the benefits you need to live comfortably. If your employment and your vocation align, it's a nice bonus. If they don't, do what you're passionate about in your free time.

> Many hackers want to both provide the best possible life for their families and participate in a grand adventure of changing the world by creating something people want.

If you can get that, it's awesome. But if you can't, then you have to choose. And I know what I'm choosing.

> I used to believe that the employment and vocation should align.

> If your employment and your vocation align, it's a nice bonus.

That is the meaning of "should", isn't it? And even if they don't align 100%, you can always strive for a maximum.

> That is the meaning of "should", isn't it?

Not really. It's a difference between "should have" and "nice to have".

If you go in with the expectation that your job and your vocation should align, then you're setting yourself up for a negative experience. Maybe not immediately, but definitely down the road, because that alignment won't last forever.

I prefer to go in with the idea that it's a desirable, but entirely optional bonus.

I guess it depends on how "risk averse" you are in this context. It's kinda like salary negotiations. I prefer to put most of the weight on the base salary. Equity and bonuses are nice, but if the base salary isn't enough to live comfortably, then you're setting yourself up for a big risk: you're one management decision away from coming up short. Yes, I know that most US employers can fire you at will in theory, but in practice getting laid off doesn't happen as often as the myriad of stuff that can adversely affect your bonus or equity.

Different people have different outlooks. Mine puts the "job-passion balance" in the same category as "bonus" and "equity". It comes from my own, personal experience. YMMV.

Same. I can live in a hut in Guatemala if I feel challenged and am enjoying my work. Wealth is fun but so long as my family and I are good, it’s not a motivating factor. Solving problems is.

"so long as my family and I are good" - wealth goes a long way to ensure exactly that.

Sure, but if you're a software developer with a few years experience then pretty much any job is going to cover that.

I generally agree with you here, the sun is shining and we software engineers can make some hay! But...I have words of caution. I grew up in Southeastern Michigan. My dad is a Stanford grad mechanical engineer who worked for a Big 3 auto manufacturer, my wife's parents work in auto, and many of my friends families directly or indirectly worked in automotive.

Everything about that seemed secure and stable until our entire world got rekt in 2008. It took forever for the average automotive worker and their family to recover from that recession, and I've come out of it incredibly cynical about employment and the US economic system. When it matters most, DC will bail themselves and their cronies out first, and will drag their feet and cry deficits when it gets time to help you.

I care about doing great work, but my highest priority is to "secure the bag" as the kids say and ensure a stable life for myself and my family. I keep a big cash savings, save and invest aggressively for retirement, and make no assumptions about my employability in a hypothetical time of crisis. I have a feeling a lot of mid-late-20s and early 30s SWEs share my experience, it's no accident I chose such a lucrative field (though I do love my work!).

Watch out for yourself, don't discount the possibility that software eng is just living in a repeat of the irrationally exuberant 1990s automotive industry.

Side note/PS: It's not all about money: you've got to be politically active, invest in community, and advocate for the kind of world you believe we should live in! Just don't forget to secure yourself financially and make no assumptions if you can afford not to, then you can confidentially support yourself and others in times of crisis.

There is also a risk of health problems. If at some moment my spine decides it is no more acceptable for me to spend so much time sitting by the computer, or my eyes decide it is no more acceptable to spend so much time looking at the screen... I won't be able to work as a full-time software developer anymore.

I want to make sure that when that happens, my family will be economically okay during the following years.

Insurance can play most of the role for that right now.

Really varies on the company and where you live. Where I am, unless you’re at a select few companies, you’ll barely make ends meet or have to choose to live a particularly subpar lifestyle for a professional.

Unless you set a really unusual bar for "subpar lifestyle for a professional" this is a very atypical situation. If you think of "professional" jobs only, developers typically have better than average compensation for around the least barrier to entry. The lack of need for credentials tends to translate to significantly less debt (more so US & maybe Canada specific) and earlier career trajectory entry too.

This may be regional, but certainly seems to hold for US, Canada, much of EU in my limited experience.

Most Canadian developers don't get paid enough to live in the tech hub cities.

I think this is only true if you have a family and want to live in the tech hub city (instead of a suburb). I'm a Vancouver-based developer who has consistently made about 25-40% less than the national median salary for people with my experience. I agree, the salaries aren't what they are in the U.S., and you certainly won't be buying a house in Vancouver any time soon, but I've made ends meet just fine. In Vancouver, at least, there's a trade-off with work-life balance. You make less than you would in the U.S., but work-life balance tends to skew more towards the "life" end (people taking off early for hikes or beach days is quite common at most companies).

Yes, I could make more if I worked a lot more, or worked in the U.S., but it's not worth it to me (as someone who doesn't want kids). When I'm employed, I still live a much more comfortable life than the majority of people in Vancouver, let alone globally.

I guess I'm not really up to date on Vancouver. In the GTA the suburbs aren't much cheaper than the city and needing to buy a car wipes out most of the savings. When I interned in Toronto at an average paying place, there were full time devs in their mid 20s who still lived with their parents and commuted 90 minutes every day. That was the only way they could save for the downpayment on a little condo in the suburbs. It's a really sad lifestyle.

And yet, they are tech hubs? How does this differ from devs in Montana be California ?

More to the point, are other professions doing notably better in those “tech hubs” relative to software developers ?

In my experience, no, which suggests your comment really boils down to “there are some high COL places where even professional couples struggle to afford a house” no?

Interesting. I thought software developers were paid better than most other professions almost everywhere. Out of interest, is this because you live somewhere with low wages, or because you live somewhere with high living costs?

Most good jobs are in places where it's not possible to buy a house as a single engineer, which is a pretty basic standard of life that even low income people expect all over the country. If you don't optimize for money then your options are to either give up and move away, or accept poor living conditions like hour long commutes or having roommates as a grown adult.

Yes but there is a threshold. Good to me doesn’t mean everyone drives a Tesla. It means freedom to do what we want and not be prisoners to what we own or want to own.

True - it doesn't mean that everyone drives a Tesla to me either. To me, it means that if I need to shell out some serious cash to fix an expensive kidney problem, I am able to do it (levels of insurance coverage aren't same everywhere). Because if I can't, then there isn't any freedom to do what I want because I'll be dead.

Working in a corporation where I’m already adequately challenged by the work, is there any other goal to strive for except promotion and compensation increase?

Once you are at the level where your compensation covers everything you want, it’s more of a game to increase it than necessity.

It also makes me feel better since a lot of people I don’t respect earn a lot more than I do, so increasing relative compensation is righting something in the world :P

>Once you are at the level where your compensation covers everything you want, it’s more of a game to increase it than necessity.

This is also why many people choose to plateau at a certain point. In the Google/Facebook scheme, that's often L5 - I've talked with a number of employees who debate whether they even want the responsibility that comes with an L6 promo and are quite convinced they wouldn't want L7+

Their mindset would probably be foreign to the author of this article, but I can see it and it lines up with what you said - at a certain point, if comp is high enough, I'd prefer to be well paid AND have free time. I've worked with some truly incredible L7+ engineers, but they correlate strongly with people who never turn off and seemingly never stop working, and that's simply not something that appeals to me in life.

The problems that I am passionate about are large at scale and really require large amounts of capital and not within my expertise.

So I need wealth (money).

That's what investors are for. Even Elon uses investors.

This guy is deluded about the meaning of his product. I was a Waze user. It saved me a few minutes here and there getting to work, and that was worth the $0 it cost me. If he ever forced an employee to miss even a single kid's soccer game to save me two minutes getting to work, though, I no longer feel that is worth it.

I spent most of the past five years working on projects for the US geointelligence enterprise where if we failed to meet a deadline, a satellite might not launch. Before that, I was in the Army for 8 years fighting wars. I am perfectly willing to make tremendous sacrifices when it is actually worth it, but it is amazing to see how deluded Silicon Valley types are about the actual importance of what they're doing. Not everything changes the world. Most products are trifling conveniences, nice to haves, and if you miss a deadline here or there, nobody cares. Or at least they really shouldn't care.

> I was in the Army for 8 years fighting wars.

Was that worth it? Do you consider that superior to working on trifling conveniences?

Not really, but I was young and stupid. Whether it ends up being worth it depends on how it works out for you. I ended up with significant and permanent spine injuries and I'm lucky as hell I landed in a knowledge industry where I can work from bed, otherwise I might not be able to work at all. It'd be nice to not spend the last 50 years of my life with a partially non-functional body, though.

Thank you for your service

This is an amazing post - it describes exactly how bad manager looks like and what kind of expectations does he have from his employees. No emergency PTO (despite being a benefit), ability to just get rid of people who don't suit him, cursing at people, not having a proper work/life balance. It just keeps on giving.

And all for what? A mapping application having features which really don't save lives 99% of the time.

This guy is something else. That entitlement section was an eye opener. That stuff should be the norm. Felt like guilt tripping people at one of the most wealthy companies in the world because they don't have a job that treats them poorly. Companies make a lot of money it should be spent on the people that make that money for the company.

> That stuff should be the norm.

Really? I'd rather you just paid me more, so I can use the money how I'd like, instead of coddling me with loads of benefits.

And then there's this: companies don't provide all this stuff out of the goodness of their hearts. They provide it because it means they can squeeze more out of you. Again, I might be able to get on board with that if it's a company I really want to work for, but I'd still rather they just pay me more instead.

I agree with all of that except the swearing part. Is swearing in work a big deal in US? I'm Scottish (even worse Glaswegian) so perhaps have a skewed view.

It depends entirely on the context. If swears are being used in a way that even remotely touches on other employees or the company's products, then it's a huge morale drag.

Yelling out "Fuck!" because you just stubbed your toe on your desk, or because you've been stuck on a frustrating problem for awhile that you just can't solve, is fine. Saying "Why does team X's product suck so fucking much?" or "Why do you keep making this same fucking mistake?" is a huge problem.

It's not exactly about the swears per se, but about being overly negative / anti-collaborative. The OP post gives off the vibe of someone who prides themselves on being "brutally honest" in their feedback but which in fact really just comes off as being an asshole to most people.

My view on swearing in the workplace is that you can only do it if everyone who hears it is one of your immediate peers. Swearing down rank is an abuse of power (lower ranks are expected to be polite). Swearing up is a sign of immaturity (can’t contain emotions, etc).

Also swearing should only be used verbally and only in humorous ways: “this code I wrote is fubar” is ok, “Johnson is an asshole” is not.

In the article he says that whatever language he was using, HR was involved over it.

> I began racking up my HR complaints. I used a four letter word, my analogy was not PC, my language was not PG

He's not just swearing. He's an asshole. But he wants to blame the "PC brigade" for not letting him be an asshole, which he was used to when he had power over everyone else, including HR.

You don't "rack up HR complaints" for swearing at Google. You definitely have to be an asshole for that to happen. One HR complaint? Maybe it could have been unreasonable. But multiple HR complaints? The probability of him not being an asshole seriously diminishes.

Source: I work at Google

Swearing just changes the dynamic when used in a professional setting (in the US). It is casual, widely interpretable use, generally negative language.

At worst, if targeted to a person, project, or role it immediately heightens the tension in the relationship.

At best, it is used to emphatically describe something ("this code is a bit shitty") but again because of swear words generally inflammatory nature it can be interpreted poorly.

Swearing culture is definitely very different in the US compared to Scotland. I've noticed that people from the US have a tendency to say things like "heck" or "frick" because saying "hell" or "fuck" is seen as something that one ought to do. That's definitely not a thing in Scotland, where in my experience you're likely to hear far "worse" even in formal or professional contexts.

- An Englishman (England is culturally somewhere between the US and Scotland on this I think).

I'm sure it depends on the industry and the circumstances. Way back when, I worked in the US oil industry as an engineer and I remember one rig superintendent in particular who basically couldn't get out a sentence that wasn't punctuated with some cuss word or other. But even in the 90s in tech, some level of cussery was pretty normal. It's definitely true, at least at large companies (and events) these days, anything other than the very occasional f-bomb, especially in public is definitely frowned upon.

I swear, a lot. I work in London finance. It very much depends on the company. I used to work for a clandestine hedge fund with a pretty crazy culture, and swearing was the way to communicate efficiently. I loved it, it fit my personality.

Now I get a letter from HR if I type "shit" on the team's slack channel. I also notice that people are "selectively offended"; they'll use profanity when it suits them, but if something genuinely ticks you off, and you happen to swear (not AT a person, but at things/concepts/in general) they try to use it as a bazooka against you. Try to make you lose all credibility because you said "it's fucked".

To me, as a non-british person (well, I'm British now, I guess, got my citizenship pre-brexit..) it's a super strange and touchy subject. However, I try to power through, being the "rude foreign guy" (rude as in rude language, not rude as in mean or vindictive), and that sort of works. Almost all of my colleagues just know that's what and who I am, I don't mean any offence, and really, nobody gets offended (unless it suits their strategic purposes). We all use a shitload of profanity in our day to day language anyway, so why the fuck would it be different in the office?

No idea about US (I'd guess - yeah), but it's certainly a big deal here in continental Europe. I've also not seen anyone casually swear in London either. It's considered quite unprofessional and aggressive.

Really? I've went to London office a couple of times and have had many colleagues there and they didn't seem notable different to Scots in terms of swearing.

In the US it’s not uncommon to hear f** or sh*. I don’t personally like it when people do it but it’s not uncommon.

Really depends on the sub-industry. In big pharma "That's not a good idea -- it's not going to work b/c blah blah blah" is a scathing rebuke. In games / media "What the fuck is going on with this server?" is background noise. I should say was the kids seem different to me -- maybe I'm out of touch.

If it is naturally how you talk most people tend not to notice.

US is a far more religious society. At least my religion expressly forbids cursing and swearing. I still kind of have a visible reaction when people curse, but I think it makes people regard me poorly, so I am trying to correct it.

> I don't believe long hours are a badge of honor but I also believe that we have to do whatever it takes to win, even if its on a weekend.

That's a no for me when the incentives are different in magnitude.

> And all for what? A mapping application having features which really don't save lives 99% of the time.

Are you saying you aren't willing to sacrifice your well-being to increase the value of this manager's portfolio? /s

A mapping application that frequently diverts traffic off the freeway into narrow residential roads, probably does the opposite of saving lives. In my experience, it doesn't even save time, just gives you a more complicated route

The warnings about objects on road etc. were probably good for safety. The routes are bad and dangerous - it's given me left turns across multiple lanes that never, ever stop before.

100% this! The work life balance section in particular was an eye opener. I’m sure the Waze employees that were part of the acquisition have a _completely_ different perspective, and I bet they‘ve been much better off after the acquisition.

> A mapping application having features which really don't save lives 99% of the time.

And ruins thoroughfares not designed for heavy traffic, while degrading quality of life for people who don't use it!

I'm glad that this is the prevailing sentiment in this thread. At first, the article was just run of the mill complaints about Google culture but it took a nasty turn towards the end so I came looking for validation in the comments

You don’t get it. It’s about the users! The users!!! /s

I came exactly to say that, the guy is a nut job manager. Working weekend and probably being belittled by this guy while doing that, for what? A driving app, wow.

How would children on otherwise quiet streets get to hone their reflexes if Waze didn't divert traffic down them?

He made money tho...

Maybe bad for mental health of the average employee but not for everyone.

He sounds kind of toxic and out of touch, and didn't really mention why he stayed so long despite that being the title of the article.

You know someone is Up To Something when they rant about HR restricting their speech. It's weird to me that he's now a free agent, rants about how people complained that "I used a four letter word, my analogy was not PC, my language was not PG", and yet doesn't indulge in his blog post. Maybe he learned something about communicating effectively through discussions with HR?

He mentions not getting free distribution on Android phones. It baffles me that he couldn't negotiate some sort of deal. I am sure someone's end goal was to put all of Waze in Maps, and I don't think anyone would have prevented him from doing that. I feel like there was some emotional attachment to his baby that he couldn't get over, and it hurt the distribution of the product. You aren't acquired by a big tech company to be nurtured and grow -- you're there to be assimilated, for better or for worse. I'm surprised that he's surprised. (You can get bought by Google and grow your brand, of course. Android is still called Android, not Google Phone. Maybe Andy Rubin was just a better CEO? Though quite a piece of human garbage, as I understand it.)

Finally, the rest of the rant is about how those dang employees don't work hard enough and want too much money. I can see why that irritates the CEO type -- they risked everything to get where they are today. But, that's not the game the employees are playing. They took a more conservative course and ended up at the top of their field, they're there to make your ideas come to life efficiently and effectively. If you want naive worker bees who will work 80 hours a week for $20,000 a year, you got acquired by the wrong company, plain and simple.

For someone who claims to be savvy, he seems to have a lot of blind spots. I guess it's nice to get it all out into the open, as a warning to people who might choose to work with him on his next adventure.

At the risk of being not politically correct myself, I think there are significant cultural gaps between the west coast American standard and people from Israel (Bardin is Isralei).

With the caveat that this is my experience only, Israelis are more blunt, direct and often openly critical vs Americans, especially Californians. They're often right and all the ones I've worked with have been very smart, but the way a message is communicated is sometimes more important than the message itself.

I think that in this global age people think that the notion of intercultural communication issues has gone away, but IMO it still exists.

Israeli here.

cultural gaps are very much alive and kicking

During my career I've worked with people around the world, all in the Tech industry.

Israeli-Californian cultural gap is huge.

It is made worse by the fact that Israelis usually have a good English level, some even have an okay accent - which makes their US counterpart expect them to use the same communication etiquette they are used to.

Californians will go out of their way to avoid any overt conflict.

Israelis see conflict as a valid form of day to day communications.

An Israeli can go out of a meeting thinking he was just being told "yes", while he was given a glaring "no" delivered in the All-American-speak.

This is interesting to me, because you hear the same thing when discussing Japanese vs American culture, with the Americans being the more direct ones in that comparison.

I wonder what happens when Israelis work with Japanese people.

Without getting too much into the politics of it, I think a key factor is how polarized people are.

Another one is how litigious Americans are, or at least are perceived to be.

(Quebec person here, we're not exactly known for our table manners, but you'll always get a direct answer) ;-)

That would be interesting to see, indeed.

Never got a chance to work with Japanese.

Born-bred NY-expat Israeli here, working for a West Coast Big Tech company.

New York (probably all US East) and Israeli cultures are fairly analogous. In just 3 extra timezones, West Coast workplace culture is light years away.

Many of my Israeli colleagues have no patience for the soft-pedaled corporate standard double talk (which they would call "PC"), and think that all US workplaces are like this. They have a hard time believing that my NY experience was just like our local Tel Aviv office.

an old coworker of mine used to see conflict as a good thing because it means people are invested in whatever is being discussed. I tend to agree with him.

I've heard this a lot, tended to practice it, and have one divorce to show for it.

I come from a family of direct argumentative people. Many people do not, and this style of communication will shut them down, leading to suffering and ultimately only one side being heard. I'm more ambivalent about the value of directness now.

> at the risk of not being politically correct

I don't think it's so controversial to claim that different cultures have different default communication styles.

Israelis aren't the only ones who tend to be more direct than the average Californian. I usually appreciate it: corporate speech tends to dance around the point a bit, and bluntness saves time and clarifies where people stand. That said, I can also understand how some people would be taken aback or intimidated by excessive bluntness, especially from a superior.

Yep this is true. California (and if we are being honest, liberal) types will do anything and everything to avoid any kind of conflict. I can't stand it.

Israelis are straight to the point without the typical American BS. I have been on a conference call with Israelis and Americans and every 15 seconds the Israelis would go on mute to complain how stupid the Americans sounded. They were speaking a lot but effectively saying nothing of value.

Say what you mean, mean what you say.

> California (and if we are being honest, liberal) types will do anything and everything to avoid any kind of conflict

Someone hasn't heard of Minnesota nice[0]. The conflict avoidance in the midwest is way more extreme than what I've experienced in California.

[0]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minnesota_nice

Arguably this is a sign of an Israeli tendency to complain about things and arrogance. Maybe they were right, maybe they weren't.

East Coast and West Coast too. I've struggled there a fair bit myself, having East Coast parents.

I would love to work with some Israelis or East Coasters sometime. Be refreshing :)

God, the game industry must have wrecked my brain. I read TFA and was like "Hells yes, I want to work with this guy!" ... but reading some of the criticisms ... huh interesting.

Then again, there's a real high to being part of a team of 10 people who are shipping a product that people love all across the globe. Interesting. I'm definitely not a big-co guy.

Echoing what others said about a difference in culture, I find it really ironic that its important to be globalist and "inclusive" except when its inconvenient. Israelis are extremely blunt its just how the culture is. It has nothing to do with being toxic, mean, etc.

Shouldn't we be inclusive and understand that people from other cultures can't be expected to act the way others do? Especially people from California.

> Being promoted has more impact on the individuals economic success than the product growth. The decision which product to work on stems from the odds of getting promoted and thus we began onboarding people with the wrong state of mind - seeing Waze as a stepping stone and not as a calling.

Their ability to maximize their own income before the acquisition was based on how successful your product was- they had stock options! Their ability to maximize their income after the acquisition was based on getting their next promotion.

They were never actually in love with your product. The passion was not passion for what you did. Their passion was for money. Waze was always a stepping stone.

All the while, here you are complaining that you can't arbitrarily fire people, that you can't "speak your mind" for fear of HR complaints, just generally wishing you could continue to abuse your employees. These are things you only did because those employees were just a stepping stone for your success, not people.

What a whiny hypocrite.

There's a pervasive belief by managers that involuntarily working weekends for an extended period of time will increase rather than decrease the total work done, and that engineering output can be measured in "hours", that I find absolutely ridiculous.

If I think back over the times when I've been most productive, I've had the kind of trusted flexibility that allows me to work 14 hours one day to get a feature in before the big demo, but also leave an hour early the next day to go catch up on all the real life stuff I didn't do. Reading the article, I get the impression the author is praising the 14 hour day while condemning the leaving early, which is failing to see that they're two sides of the same coin. I'm not going to work myself to exhaustion unless my manager helps facilitate it.

I guess you probably heard that classic joke that the (project) manager is the person who thinks that a baby can be produced and delivered in a single month given nine women to do it.

It's from Frederick Brooks' book, "The Mythical Man-Month", the earliest good book on management of software projects. "The bearing of a child takes nine months, no matter how many women are assigned."

If you’re a new engineer reading this article: Startups are talked about as if work-life balance doesn’t or shouldn’t exist. It only doesn’t exist if you (1) choose for that to be the case or (2) Have a manager like this who holds things like firing you if ‘someone better comes along’ over your head.

There are plenty of startups where you can put in your ~8 hours and call it a day 99% of the time and the business will still be thriving. Having seen the work some engineers put into cranking out code nonstop, a bit less time coding and a bit more time thinking would have likely done way more good for the code base and the company anyway.

Managers who don’t value your personal time and are willing to fire you anytime ‘someone better’ comes along are toxic and should be avoided.

Yeah, a lot of startups are under resourced in terms of people though. Maybe nobody is threatening you, but as you settle into the role you kind of realize that working a bit more could actually be the difference success and failure.

I do agree that it's better if you're making that call on your own. If management is trying to squeeze you like this by threatening to fire you, it's usually an empty/foolish threat. Hiring a proper replacement takes time.

> Yeah, a lot of startups are under resourced in terms of people though. Maybe nobody is threatening you, but as you settle into the role you kind of realize that working a bit more could actually be the difference success and failure.

This is completely my opinion and shaped from my own experience. But if you're working at an understaffed startup, the bottleneck for 'success' is usually not the engineering team, and also almost definitely not correlated with butt-in-seat time and amount of code contributed. Not saying that's what you were implying, but just want to clarify that's the direction I'm coming from.

It's up to the business's leaders to determine what should be prioritized with the resources they have and take risks on building out those ideas accordingly. If you, as an engineer, begin working nights and weekends to have the company 'succeed', you're now communicating to management there's all this untapped engineering capacity. You give the illusion that more can consistently be done than is actually sustainable and no one wins when the engineering team burns out 6-12 months later. Well, maybe the company does somewhat when you leave and forfeit all your stock options back to the pool...

In my opinion, the biggest impact you can make as an engineer at any level is by stepping away at the end of the day, doing your own thing, and every now and then just think holistically about what you're doing at work and the direction the product you're working on is going in. Your butt-in-seat time will become far more productive as a result.

Yeah, I think you're probably right about that, but that's not always easy to see at the time. Especially if it's a little earlier in their career.

How do you check for and avoid (2) in new grad interview stages? Especially when you are not assigned to a team when applying

There's really no good way if you're applying to big corporations. At smaller companies you'll usually get a feel for the people there based on how you feel during the interviews. You might even get to have lunch with the entire team if it's small enough.

Ask people how many hours per week they work. It might vary a bit from team to team but you'll roughly get an idea of corporate work/life balance

"You need to be able to answer the "what have you done for our users lately" question with "not much but I got promoted" and be happy with that answer to be successful in Corp-Tech."

Good quote. Although you can extend the lawyers theme out to the rest of the bureaucratic corp too.

> at the end of every day, I always ask myself "what did I do for our users today". This simple exercise helps keep priorities straight. When I found myself avoiding this question because I was embarrassed by the answer, I knew my time was up.

I agree. Good quote

I think this guy missed the memo that Google bought Waze to put them out to pasture. They were the only real competition to Google Maps and were acquired to ensure Google Maps monopoly. Waze shipping features and winning in the marketplace would be a bad thing. I think a lot of his post stems from missing this.

Hard to align that perspective with his acknowledgement that Waze was allowed to operate independently, and the fact that Waze has been launching lots of new features for the last few years.

Straight from the horse's mouth:

>All of our growth at Waze post acquisition was from work we did, not support from the mothership. Looking back, we could have probably grown faster and much more efficiently had we stayed independent.

He also details the constraints and additional burdens imposed by corporate as well the overall lack of support.

That doesn't support any claims of "putting them out to pasture". Is Microsoft "putting Github out to pasture" by taking a hands off approach and letting them keep doing their own thing?

It's not about the hands off approach or letting them do their own thing. It's about their long term goals. Microsoft wants GitHub to be successful while Google wanted Google Maps to succeed.

In that section of the article, he was talking about marketing and partnership limitations that are imposed by being a part of a larger conglomerate. This has little to do with feature development.

You must not be a Waze user.

I think like 1/3 of the people I knew there who got promotions got it purely off of visibility and not actual customer impact. In one case they literally dumped an unfinished API on Chrome users before it was finished and then after collecting their promotion, abandoned it to let other people clean up the mess. In other cases schedules were compressed or important features were cut so that we could "ship" in time for the next promo round. So frustrating.

The problem with that question: who are the real users?

If the only user you can identify for the majority of your day-to-day tasks is "my boss" or "my boss's boss", then there's probably something wrong.

Everyone gets mandates from on high, but that shouldn't be all of one's work.

Parts if society will pressure you to stay on the ladder rather than seeking meaning or utility.

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