Saturday, December 10, 2005

Google: The opposite of Officespace

Ray served as the first line of defense against users who were spamming Google with multiple automated queries. This was often the result of their using software that automatically queried Google on a regular basis to ascertain the rank of their websites in Google results for a particular search. High volumes of these automated queries could potentially slow the service down for everyone, which is why Google considered them a violation of its terms of service.

Ray took unauthorized automated queries very personally. If he could figure out the spammer's email address, he would send a terse cease and desist warning to them. If he couldn't, he might block their IP address from accessing Google altogether. In an extreme case, he might request that a spammer's ISP kick them off of their service. And, if the ISP wasn't responsive enough, he might block all of the ISP's other IP addresses, too. That's how Ray turned off access to Google for most of France one day. It got the ISP’s attention, all the more so because it happened to be one of Google’s larger customers at the time.

One engineer holding that kind of power speaks to the assumptions inherent in Google’s culture. Individuals were considered capable of weighing the effects of their actions and presumed to have the best interests of the company (and Google’s users) at heart.

In previous jobs I’d held, no one did anything of significance without first getting approval from two or more layers of management. Memos would be written, committees would form, discussions would be held and all aspects considered before steps could be taken. Time would pass. Decision-making redundancy was believed to be mutually beneficial: it prevented rogue acts of self-interest or stupidity from harming the brand and insulated individuals from the repercussions of implementing their own ideas. The assumption was that individuals could not be trusted either to put the corporate welfare first or to understand the complexity of the business in which they were engaged.

Google emphasized acting over deciding.

Of all the elements of "big-company thinking" I had to unlearn, that was one of the hardest. I constantly sought reassurance that I was empowered to move to the next step, only to be asked, "Why haven’t you done that already?"

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