Back in the internet boom in the advent of 21st century, I was a techy geek reading Fortune magazines and following the stories of technology trailblazers such as Bill Gates, Jeff Bezo (founder of Amazon) and Larry Ellison (Oracle). I am still a techy geek and find it fascinating reading about geniuses who create a market or a business that never existed before. Google is one of them.
The last book I read on Google was in 2008. “The Google Story : Inside the hottest business, media and technology success of our time” by David Wise narrates the lives of the Sergey Brin and Larry Page; and the founding of Google. I found the insider story about Google the company more fascinating and juicy.
“I’m Feeling Lucky – The Confessions of Google Employee Number 59” is about Douglas Edwards who worked in Google from the early days of 1999 to 2005. Douglas applied for a marketing job at Google and was interviewed by a young man bouncing on a large ball while dressed in roller hockey gear (or the famous one: Sergey dressed as a cow and stroking his udder while conducting an interview?). He knew that he wasn’t working for an unconventional company. Edwards takes us inside the hyper-energised world of the Googleplex for the closest look you can get without an ID card.
The young Google as a company doesn’t have a structure, job description for employees, no marketing and business strategy, and no structured policy and procedure. All of which I must say is a management science industry that I make my living with. The only believe besides creativity is its motto: “Don’t be evil.” Naturally in a workplace like this, the founders’ command is the company’s decree.
Edwards found Google in its infancy is a crazy place to work. As much as he tried to put a branding strategy in place, it takes second place from the top priority of its research and engineering workforce to make Google’s search quicker and more relevant. It’s a story of making your job up as you go, in an office that’s like a geek fraternity claiming squatter’s rights to eat, invent and sleep there. It’s a place where years of work experience amounts to little. Of massages at work, being asked to come up with 100 ad lines in 24 hours, April Fools tricks and cash bonuses so big they’re guarded by armoured cars.
Edwards chronicles in details the names of employees and recalled the launch of new Google products with gusto, humour and some let downs.
I was continuously amazed by how a company who defies all management convention strives and became the world’s most valuable company. Where the world depends on branding to differentiate themselves, Google holds true to fundamental truth, that its product (adwords, Gmail, would be so good and continuously improve the product. “If we can’t win on quality,” Larry said quietly, “We shouldn’t win at all.” The Google products are to be so great that no rival could ever reach the zenith Google has achieved. That, to me speaks volume and demonstrate Google as a company of substance which confirms in a world of smoke and mirrors, only substance and quality win through in the longer term.
It was this book that gave me the true real glimpse of the founder’s impatience for corporate pretense. The two founders behave and think alike. Larry doesn’t like repeating himself, doesn’t say very much and expect his instructions to be followed. Everything that seems wrong in corporate practice becomes a rule in Google. For example: Larry’s Rules of Order go like this:
- Don’t delegate: do everything you yourself to make things go Faster (which I always believe!)
- Don’t’ get in the way if you’re not adding value. Let the people actually doing the work talk to each other while you go do something else. Don’t be a bureaucrat. (I know the modern office hold so many meetings with so many views and opinions that things never get done!)
- Ideas are more important than age. Just because someone is junior doesn’t mean they don’t deserve respect and cooperation.
More than once Edwards question whether he is suited to be a part of the Google revolution and the college culture of the company. Google employees work 7 days a week 24 hours where they can, shared meals and go on ski-trip together. People either became close friends or driven apart by annoyance in close quarters. In the midst of all this, people feel in and out of love, formed life long bonds and ended their marriages. For some, Google became more a lifestyle than an employer.
“I liked coming to work. I liked my job. I like the challenges. I liked the energy and I liked my coworkers – with whom I was spending more hours than with my family. But for me the Googleplex was just a place to get things done. I was a 41-year-old man, married, with three kids, two cars, a car and a mortgage. I already had a home.” – page 182
“It’s a story about a corporate ascent without precedent, as Google exploded from obscurity to dictionary definition in five short years.” – the flap of the hardback says, and it also a story of Edwards tenure and experience from the day he joined to the day he left the company. This is the most intimate account of Google there is out there. In all aspects, technological and Internet breakthroughs, a corporate story on the rise to greatness, personal workplace triumphs and tribulations, this book scores high on all arenas.
For more insights, read the interview with Edwards about the book see here: Fast Company interview with Douglas Edwards