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December 15, 2006

Are Google Kids Happy?

Aaron Swartz wrote a small article about Google and its corporate culture: The Goog Life: how Google keeps employees by treating them like kids.

I was talking with a friend the other day about that perennial subject of conversation in the Valley, Google. And finally she gave me the clue that made the whole place make sense. "It's about infantilizing people," she explained. "Give them free food, do their laundry, let them sit on bouncy brightly-colored balls. Do everything so that they never have to grow up and learn how to live life on their own."

And here's how he describes Google:
Not a whole lot has changed since the last time I visited Google. (...) But the two blatant changes to the campus are a large, terribly fake-looking replica of SpaceShipOne hanging in the middle of the main building and a replica dinosaur skeleton standing outside. "It's as if this place is being decorated by seven-year-olds," a friend comments. It also reminds me of Robert Reich's comment about Newt Gingrich: "His office is adorned with figurines of dinosaurs, as you might find in the bedrooms of little boys who dream of one day being huge and powerful."

SpaceShipOne, the first private-venture craft to attempt to leave the earth's atmosphere and enter space.

The author thinks Google's secrecy is just a way to keep the image of omnipotence.
"It's always frightening when you see how the sausage actually gets made," explains a product manager. And that's exactly what the secrecy is supposed to prevent. The rest of the world sees Google as this impenetrable edifice with all the mysteries of the world inside while the select few inside the walls know the truth -- there is no there there -- and are bound together by this burden.

Keeping employees happy means understanding their needs, hobbies, making them feel at home when they work. If being a child means not having worries, dreaming and playing a lot, maybe Googlers are still kids. More often than not, dreams move the world forward.

Some insightful reactions from Googlers:
"Google is a place that it's easy to be passionate about. Without seeming immodest, the work we do there has helped to change the world, and (I hope) will continue to do so in the future. It's a place where I can show up and end up working with some profoundly smart people -- selected not just for the 'smart' trait, but also the 'get things done' trait: good company if you're the sort of person interested in changing things. It's also, and maybe most importantly, a place where the people running the show have a profound commitment to Doing the Right Thing." (Brandon)

"The point of being onsite is not so managers can babysit you, its so that you can have the opportunity to interact with some of the most brilliant minds that the industry has to offer. The fact that I'm able to consult with the world's authority on many of the technologies that I work with makes my work all the more better in the end. At Google, anyone could come in with an idea, and if it is a truly good idea can get the support of the largest, most robust computing infrastructure in the world. Who decides whether an idea is viable? The community of Google employees, not one manager or top exec. Thats a pretty sweet deal for an entrepreneurial spirited person if you ask me." (?)

Also read:
Google Toy Factory
The utopian Google offices

1 comment:

  1. As one who's had some interest in productivity issues at one point in my life, I can say that the working environment at Google is indeed considered a Utopia for most creative types. I mean, productivity (and ultimately, output) is dependent on one's environment, and I guess Google is trying to get the most out of their employees by recognizing their needs and nurturing their interests.

    Are Googlers kids? Maybe not. Everyone needs a good environment to work--and create!--in. Otherwise, boredom sets in and we'd all get boring Google products.