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.