[Background: Twenty-five years in software development; CTO of Telesym, a mobile VOIP company; VP of AOL/Mobile Services; senior VP of Tegic, which developed T9 text-input technology.]
GOOGLE WITH A BRITISH ACCENT
“Google has engineering sites all over the world, many working in mobile–in Asia, North America, two sites in Europe. That requires coordination, but they all need to be separate, too, so they can be effective. I’m responsible for making sure that happens.
When we were first looking to open offices, one of the criteria was picking somewhere that other employees would want to go, such as London, so you’d have a bulk of Googlers coming in and helping to create the culture. We wanted the same spirit as Google headquarters to foster innovation, but each office needs its own personality.”
CREATING A PRODUCT IS LIKE PEELING AN ONION
“The culture has been literally built for innovation and for engineers. We’re not told by some consultant who studies the market for six months and then says, ‘Here’s what the market wants.’ We get an idea, launch quickly, and learn from the market. That’s the equivalent of unwrapping an onion skin. You don’t get real insight until you listen to the market and peel back the first layer, then another and another.”
“Larry and Sergey [founders Page and Brin] make themselves incredibly available. It is amazing. And Eric is also very hands-on. I know what Eric thinks about me, good or bad, at almost any point in the day. That gives you the signals you need to do the right things.”
SMALL, AUTONOMOUS TEAMS
“Most engineers will work on one or two teams, typically five-to-seven person teams–the project manager, quality assurance, three to four engineers. They’re responsible for getting their stuff done. That is much different from a top-down organization. Often we don’t even know where we’re going at first.”
FOLLOW THE DATA
“We just launched a very important product that was years in the making, a new version of our Google Maps product for mobile. It’ll automatically show where you are even if you don’t have GPS. It’s complicated, but we use cell tower identification to give an approximate location. People have tried to do this, but they haven’t done a good job on the algorithms. We get all this data and pull it together.
We like to solve problems with more data rather than less. That’s how we create things like spell checking on Google searches. It’s not dictionary-based. We crawl the Web and see all the misspellings that are out there, and then relate back to what we think the most common queries would be.”
“When people get stressed out in our office, or they’re working too hard, they go out after hours. At least once a week, they pick a new pub, and the whole group goes there. A couple have turned out to be Google haunts–The Plumber’s Arm, the Rat and the Boar, the Dead Parrot Inn.”