Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Beyond the Book Visits The GooglePlex

A new “Beyond the Book” podcast from Copyright Clearance Center in which CCC’s Chris Kenneally gets a special tour of the Googleplex and speaks with Steven Levy, a senior writer at Wired and author of In the Plex, his book about Google. Levy began writing about Google in 1999 and for his upcoming book, he spent two years inside the Googleplex. “It’s really hard to imagine a company that has a bigger effect on us in our daily lives than Google does.”

In the book, Levy had to keep Google’s social network Google+ under a codename “Emerald Sea” because it wasn’t released yet. “… people at Google told me that they felt that this was the one epic fail…they’d done a lot of things right over the year…but one thing they didn’t do that would have been a smart thing to do would be to master the social networking aspect- to build people into their product, as they put it.”

Levy goes to describe the sales people in relation to the engineers. “Google had this odd relationship to its sales force -… they [knew they] were necessary, but didn’t consider them, in a way, equal to the engineers…the engineers are in the center of it. But they see the ads section as also an engineering center. They think they’re making innovative products in engineering.”

Right. Well, you know, of course, the company was founded, begun at Stanford, and many of the early employees came from that environment – that elite campus environment where, I guess, they work hard, they play hard is – is that about what it’s like at Google?

A: Yeah, it is. There’s two strains, I think, in the culture of Google that are really important. And one of them, as you say, is the university idea there. And it is very much campus-like, not only in the amenities but in how they argue things. The job interviews, some people say, are almost like defending your dissertation. You’ll go on there. And there’s a lot of colloquy and back and forth, and they try to keep it based on data.The other strain in the culture is – comes from, I think, the fact that both founders –Larry and Sergey – were Montessori kids. So there’s a streak of irreverence that go on there. They question authority. And it’s OK to ask any question of anyone –even the founders. And once a week they have a meeting – an all-hands meeting –where anyone can attend and ask any question that they want.

And of course Google has a system where people can submit things online and vote them up and down, but they can also ask questions directly. And sometimes the questions are quite pointed, straight at Larry and Sergey, and they don’t take it personally. They’ll try to answer the questions very straightforwardly, and no one really worries about whether you’re offending Larry or Sergey when you ask a pointed question. I remember I was at a meeting once – at a TGIF meeting – where someone asked, why does our CFO get so much money? Why do we have to spend so much money to get a chief financial officer? And Sergey thought for a minute, and he said, well, you know, basically we looked at it and we felt that this was the going rate for CFOs, and we wouldn’t get a good one otherwise. And the other person sort of stood down and said, OK, that makes sense and, you know, that’s a good answer there. And they go on to the next thing.

The podcast is available here:

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