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The Problem With Google’s Corporate Culture

Steve Yegge, the Google engineer that came in to recent infamy for inadvertently publicising a rant about all he perceived as being wrong with Google, has written another lengthy post, this time explaining all that is awesome about working for Google.

In the first few paragraphs he touches upon something, probably unintentionally, that I feel captures perfectly what is wrong with Google. In essence, Yegge says that a company like Amazon cares about its customers, while Google cares about its employees.

This is, I believe, the crux of the matter. Google, as a company founded by geeky engineers and built on the output of geeky engineers, is composed nearly entirely of said geeky engineers. In his book In The Plex Steven Levy observes that if you’re not an engineer within Google, you’re practically a second-class employee.

Google has become a distributed corporate technology campus, focused heavily on making their supersmart geek employees happy. All those awesome corporate perks you hear so much about, they’re there to make sure those supergeeks are happy and love working for Google so much they’d never consider going anywhere else.

The problem is that these geeks, on the whole, are not in touch with the real world in any meaningful way. Yes, the guys who build these cool Google products are all hyper-intelligent computer wizards, but that is exactly why their products fail so often. The stereotype of the geek with a superior IQ yet awkward and socially-inept is based on truth. I should know – growing up, I was one of them.

On top of that, due to all the extra services Google provides on their corporate campuses, from free food to laundry to medical services, an employee only needs to leave the corporate campus to sleep. Everything else can be done right there, at the Google campus. As a result Google employees are increasingly isolated and out of touch with the real world, having to deal only with other Google people on the Google campus for 90% of their waking lives.

So you end up with a company founded and run by geeks, with its focus on hiring more geeks and doing whatever it can to make them happy and productive, and resulting in increased isolation from the outside world. Inevitably it becomes a company out of touch with the real world, disconnected from real people and their real needs.

This, I believe, has happened to Google. They’re a self-obsessed company focused too much on funding and maintaining their insular geek campus and keeping their geek wizards churning out cool stuff. Cool stuff for other geeks, that is. Not so much for the rest of mankind.

That is why, in the long term, a company like Google is doomed to fail – unless it is capable of shedding that insular navel-gazing aspect of its corporate culture, and instead change in to an outward-looking company like Amazon whose sole purpose is to provide what its customers want.

Google may be much better to work for, but Amazon is the company I’d be investing in for the long-term.

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