My last three years were spent turning my 20% project into a product, and my job now is spent turning another 20% project into a product. There was never any management pressure from any of my managers to not work on 20% projects; my performance reviews were consistent with a productive Googler.
Calling 20% time 120% time is fair. Realistically it's hard to do your day job productively and also build a new project from scratch. You have to be willing to put in hours outside of your normal job to be successful.
What 20% time really means is that you- as a Google eng- have access to, and can use, Google's compute infrastructure to experiment and build new systems. The infrastructure, and the associated software tools, can be leveraged in 20% time to make an eng far more productive than they normally would be. Certainly I, and many other Googlers, are simply super-motivated and willing to use our free time to work on projects that use our infrstructure because we're intrinsically interested in using these things to make new products.
Then it's not 20% time, it's personal time you're giving to your employer for free. Why would you do that? Why not build your projects outside of Google and keep them for yourself (assuming it's a product and not open source)?
Because my entire career- well before I started working here- has been dependent on things that Google has given to me for free.
Like Google Search. Search helped me learn to run linux clusters effectively (it was far better than AltaVista for searching for specific error messages) which ensured I had a job, even in the dotcom busts. It helped me learn python, which also played a huge role in my future employment.
Like Gmail. Although I've run my own highly available mail services in the past, free Gmail with its initial large quotas hooked me early on. I have never regretted handing the responsibility for email over to Gmail.
Like Exacycle (my project): http://googleresearch.blogspot.com/2012/12/millions-of-core-...
in which Google donated 1B CPU hours to 5 visiting faculty (who got to keep the intellectual property they generated).
I would like to repay Google for their extreme generosity. Spending my "Free" time doing things I enjoy (building large, complex distributed computing systems that manage insane amounts of resources) so that Google can make products that it profits from seems perfectly reasonable to me.
If I had continued to work in academia, I'd spend most of my time applying for grants, writing papers, and working 150% time just to maintain basic status and get tenure. Anybody working in the highly competitive sciences, or in the tech industry, who wants to be successful, has to put in more than what most people consider a 9-5 job.
As for open sourcing: Google has a nice program to ensure that Googlers can write open source code. I haven't taken advantage of it, because most of my codes are internally facing and don't need to be open sourced. But I would certainly consider using my time to do that; I just think my time is best spent working on Google products because I believe their impact will be much higher.
You certainly seem like a smart guy, working on some cool stuff, so I'm not surprised people are a bit confused (hence the term "brainwashed") by your (pretending to?) not understand the business model of the company you work for.
You are giving your time away, for free, to a for profit corporation. That's so irrational it's painful to hear.
If you like working with google systems and resources so much that you are willing to pay your employer to use them then ok, that's a bit weird, but it's your time. If you feel you need to work 120% time to keep your career on track then ok, that's not uncommon in this industry (but it's the opposite of generosity and it's not sustainable for you).
Framing this as repaying Google for "their extreme generosity" is delusional, which is why I'm assuming it's not the real reason.
And I still consider what Google provides (search, gmail) "free". Free as in free beer- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gratis_versus_libre
I'm certainly not "giving my time away for free": to be clear, I'm a salaried worker, and I choose to work the hours I do. Further, to be clear: Google gives me immense resources to carry out life-saving scientific research, the intellectual property of which belongs to scientists (and the general public), not Google.
And you would join a large number of people who have recently started using that word to mean "can cost any amount in anything of value as long as it's not currency". So sure, it's "free" in that way and still not free in the definition of the term that's actually useful to people. Boring semantic argument, let's drop it.
As to the rest, this is a much better way of phrasing it than in terms of Google's "generosity", which is what I was pointing out as flawed.
I was a startup founder before Google. I called the shots on what I'd work on, owned all the code I produced, and worked when and how I wanted to. A large part of my motivation for writing all this code was to learn things; another large part was to produce stuff that would be a positive contribution to the world. Alas, nobody used my stuff (well, almost nobody - we had a userbase measured in the hundreds), and I didn't get paid for it. So it wasn't exactly sustainable.
In my official job duties, I now write software that's seen by over a billion users. In my unofficial job duties, I'm the maintainer of an active open-source project watched by thousands of people which gets a dozen or so patches per week. When testing this open-source library, I had free availability of thousands of machines and a corpus of billions of documents. When developing it, I had the help and mentorship of experienced coworkers, some of whom had help leadership roles in major open-source projects. I get paid a fat salary for this. I do work longer hours, but it hasn't come at the expense of things I really care about. I go out with friends 3-4 times a week. I have a steady girlfriend. I call my mom every week. Most of the time for this has come out of loafing around on Reddit and Hacker News, where you are also giving your time away, for free, to produce something of value for a for-profit corporation.
In pretty much every dimension I care about, this is a win for me. My software reaches more users. I learn more. I get paid more. I meet more interesting people, and have more of a social life. My professional reputation increases more. I get more experience.
It used to bug me that I was giving away my labor "for free" to my employer, who would then profit handsomely for me. But what I realized is that not all labor has equal value. I used to reap all the fruits of my labor, and those fruits were worth virtually nothing. I'm now in a position where my labor has dramatically more leverage, and much of that is because I use the resources of my employer, and they're entitled to take a cut of it for that reason.
When the time comes where I feel I can accomplish more outside of Google than inside it, I'll quit. That was what drew me to them in the first place, the realization that, as an entrepreneur, all the ideas I had would be better executed as features of existing Google products. If that ever reverses and something that I really want to do would be better accomplished as an individual startup, that's what I'll do.
If you feel differently than I about Google's contribution to society or the ethics of unpaid overtime cultures in general then even my rather tame "that's a bit weird" might seem wrong to you and that's fair enough, these are opinions after all.
I meant for my comment to address the framing of similar arguments to yours as "repaying Google's generosity". Considering that type of statement really does "sound brainwashed" as another commenter pointed out, I was interested in a better articulated reason which you have definitely provided.
- He's building a reputation of innovator in the company, which is certainly not bad for the next promotion or raise.
- He's sure well paid and doesn't need to risk his own wealth.
- He's out of the paper stuff and can concentrate on the technical side.
Of course, that way he misses the "get insanely rich" possibility of startups. The "famous" part no so much, you can get that in a big corp as well...
My form of brainwashing happens to include 40 hours weeks. It's pretty nice.
Anyway, I think you raise an interesting analogy: working on 20% projects at Google, then using the company's resources to launch the product, does have a number of parallels to VC funding for startups (note: I'm advisor for Google Ventures, so I have some experience with both worlds). In a sense- and nobody everybody will agree with me- Google as an employer is a low-risk, low-capital way to launch my products. Larry and Sergey already took the risks (launching a company with no clear monetization strategy), they figured out a monetization strategy, and now they invest their capital in speculative projects.
Anyway, in my case, after it seemed like my project was in good hands and ready to be a product, I looked for something else interesting to work on. I think the main problem I have working here is that there are too many cool projects I could work on, learning from experienced SWEs and SREs, but I have to stick to one.
At my current job, I can't get a port opened to make an OUTBOUND connection to Amazon Web Services.
Yeah, working at Google, it's definitely easier to use big tools to try new things, huh?
The combination of the three is rare in industry.
This isn't a criticism or negativity, all things considered it seems to be a great company to work for; it just seems to be a bit more homogenized than it used to be.
Let me tell you a story from my recent experience.
My neck hurts from time to time, and as part of stopping that, I decided that one thing I needed to do was to not sit at my desk anymore. Fortunately, I already had a standing desk at work, so it was just a matter of using it. When I got it, I thought the best plan would be to gradually ramp up; 30 minutes today, 40 minutes tomorrow, until I was standing the entire day. That never happened and I think I maybe stood for an hour a day, basically bailing out as soon as my legs felt even the slightest bit uncomfortable. Last week, I decided that that was not going to work, and I mentioned this to some people that sit (well, stand) near me. They agreed to shoot me with Nerf guns if I sat down. I did, and they did, so I stopped sitting down. Now I can stand the entire day. What really did it was watching others around me stand for the entire day; if they could do this for months, why couldn't I? That's what really motivated me to endure the annoyance in getting used to something new.
So what does this have to do with Google? It boils down to: coworkers that care, coworkers that are "different", and the willingness to make expensive non-essential office furniture universally accessible and useful.
Ultimately, there are a lot of great reasons to work at Google, and HN comments can only give you a small snapshot at a time.
1) his manager (my manager) spent the next two days with a translator contacting his family back in Iran to explain what happened
2) paid a huge amount of money to have him rehabbed. He had brain damage. They did a great job- he had access to awesome rehab people and regained a ton of brain function.
3) worked hard to get his work visa extended while he was out of work.
I use bullet points because they are a succinct way to list several orthogonal items. Please don't take my data and generalize to all of Google. All I can say is that this company is pretty incredible, and much of what get published about it isn't very accurate.
Couldn't agree more. Partially-truthful stories titled "Google used to be a great place to work but isn't anymore," seem to make a lot of HN commenters very happy. I'm not sure why.
Anyway, back to complaining about how I don't like the new pour-over coffees that the baristas upstairs make. Replacing Intelligentsia with Stumptown? How dare they! What a terrible place to work! :)
This is bald hyperbole. There are a lot of reasons you would consider working there.
One of the things I love about our culture is InDay/HackDay. It works out to less than 20% time, but the entire company is given 1 day a month - generally the middle Friday - to do anything they want. This results in a lot of things ranging from prototyping ideas; learning new tools (I spent my day today brushing up on Scala); or just taking a fitness class.
The best part? The day is honored. It's not 100+n% time. Unless you own something that is bleeding money or users from a serious bug no one is going to come to you and ask you to do anything other maybe grab a beer.
I know we're not the only company doing this, I think Twitter has hack weeks every quarter, but it's a huge differentiator from our neighbors.
See, I don't get it. Management at my company encourages going home at the end of the day. I don't understand why I would work somewhere that expects me to work more than my 40 hours.
Every place I've worked has allowed employees to come in and work weekends on projects that would help the company. I guess those places just weren't innovative (read: arrogant) enough to rebrand it as an employee benefit.
I feel that the reason 20% time captured the attention of those wishing to become future Google employees is because it implies that you are literally granted the ability to take 20% of your work schedule and spend it on side-projects. Put another way, Google is granting you permission to pursue what interests you on their time.
What I appear to be hearing is that work obligations require 100% of one's work schedule as opposed to 80%, and that a 20% project is typically pursued with time that would otherwise be considered personal time.
If one were to use 20% of their work schedule to build something, and then invest some of their personal time into it, then I would say that 20% time is alive and well. If Google merely grants you access to resources, not time, then I would argue that 20% time is dead. It would be more appropriate to rename the perk.
Sorry if I'm coming off as confrontational, I'm genuinely interested in getting a clearer view of the situation.