Ravi Mohan's Blog

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Those Crazy Guys at Google

From John Battelle's blog, an excerpt from his upcoming book about google

"Clearly, Google was metastatizing—everywhere there was opportunity, it seemed the company was expanding. Google soon had more than one hundred engineers in the company, but no focused approach to managing how their time was spent. Unsure of the best way to handle such growth, the triumvirate set up a traditional management structure based on hierarchy—teams of engineers reporting to more than a dozen engineering managers, who in turn reported to Brin and Page. But the approach began to feel top-heavy and bureaucratic—it was slowing down innovation. In September 2001, Brin and Page gathered all the engineering managers together at a companywide meeting—then informed them they were out of a job. Most got jobs in other places in the company, but the founders had made a declaration—not only were they in charge, but things would be done differently at Google."

They dismantled a hierarchy of managers because they felt they were gtting too bureaucratic?

And the owners of the company actually cared about the increasing bureaucracy and took drastic steps to curtail it ? they are beyond redemption!

Are they crazy ? They should learn from some companies I know, who have Regional Committees, Global committees, Operating committes,"chairs" for all sorts of stuff,layer on layer of redundant managers , and focus on everything but code and clients !

Tch Tch Google you might have the best engineers on the planet and make truckloads of money but you have lots to learn about management !

What can you expect of a company where the founders think coding is cool ? I tell you they are beyond all hope!


Anonymous said...

Google is an company whose strength is in innovating and bringing new products. You cannot compare them with service companies.Service companies employ not so "highly coding skilled" people.Hence service companies have thier own space and they employ people of that "grade" and for "that" money.They are in thier space.In that space "coding" is not the primary activity .As you rightly said , management of man power and time is very important.

Rajesh Babu said...

"But Google is not-doing-whatever-i-think-is-important, hence their success is irrelevant" goes one of the responses I heard.

As Guy Kawasaki says- a technical person getting to know about businsess is more easier compared to a person who studied business getting to know technical things. Google made it a point to get a tech CEO, a guy with a PhD!

It is very essential to know what a new management guy is capable of and what his/her theories are before the person is allowed to fiddle around in the organization. A technical person is expected to prove- by code, pairing etc. Similar auditions has to happen for the people who want to join the management- IMHO.

Ravi said...

"Service companies employ not so "highly coding skilled" people."

I agree.

"In that space "coding" is not the primary activity .As you rightly said , management of man power and time is very important."

yes but you need to be very careful to draw the right conclusions. this is in a many ways a self created delusion. first hire "not so competent" coders, then hire "not so competent" managers to "manage" the first set of incompetents.

It might be better to just hire excellent programmers and excellent managers . But of course then they will demand meaningful work .

btw i never said "management of manpower and time is important " :) i am sorry if the article gave that impression.

I am very against the notion of management as a something "applied " to "less skilled" or "lesser grade " people by so called "higher ups" . Generally the managers in these service companies are even worse than the programmers they manage.

Management excellence is much rarer than technical excellence and in my ten years in the industry i have known about 3 "top grade" managers.

Ravi said...

Just in case anyone didn't get it

"Tch Tch Google you might have the best engineers on the planet and make truckloads of money but you have lots to learn about management ! "

is SARCASM!!!!!

i did NOT mean to say google has anything to learn on management and that too from the Indian Services Industry .

Anyone who builds an 80 billion dollar company with less than 3000 people while maintaining a laser focus on customers and hiring top grade people knows MUCH more about management than most "Project Manager" types in the services industry , especially in India .

My God I thought my writing was good enough to convey irony !
apparently someone believed i was saying "management of manpower and time is important".Yikes!

--banging head repeatedly on keyboard--

codegamer said...

In a software company, where a bunch of bean-counters are given more importance is as spectacular for the media, as jumping from a sky high springboard into a swimming pool without water!:)

Opensource in no time, has become the most powerful force ever without any "manager". Tell me an example, the other way.

Anonymous said...

I got the feeling that you had delivered your sarcasm...hmmm...a little light...So wasnt surprised to see people taking it at face value. I have seen your earlier posts. So, It wasnt a big mystery :-) (j/k)

Service industry in India is what an industry is...like steel...Bunch of people coming in...working...and going back home...well, pretty much anyways. Hence, the "software factory" feel. Now, is this for better or for worse? How would we be able to know that?

Now, incompetence of the coders and the managers are plainly visible, and I feel a lot of it is just an example of supply not matching demand. If there were enough coders/managers out there, each one would have had to sell himself and be competent. Once we have enough competition, it would be a simple matter of natural selection.

Don't you think?

Ravi said...

Competition should help . However, there is a lot of Stupidity, even in companies in industries where competition is intense .

What the Google founders did is remarkable, because they seem to do the logical thing. An averge "founder" would have added another layer of management, not removed one!

As for me personally, I wish China (or someone else ) would deliver software at 3 $ /hour or something os that this whole "cheap outsourcing" based "industry" would go away


Anonymous said...

well, I found Google's decision interesting...and personally feel happy abt it. I am very pissed at my management. So, that opinion is very personal...

But, How would a cheaper competitor bring any difference? I didnt get your thought chain there. Besides, Competition in India is at a level where now, they know that being cheap is not enough to sell. So, I see a lot of mixed jargon being fed to a lot of kids...Not meaning much, but what the heck! The thought process is changing, for sure.

Ravi said...

hmm ok
Part of the reason why stupidity thrives in this city (Bangalore) is because the projects that are outsourced here are meaningless and driven solely by cost (irresepective of manager talk of "rich talent pools" in India . What they mean is "lots of cheap coding bodies" .)

Once the cheapness factor goes away due to an existence of a cheaper outsourcing destination, all these projects leave Bangalore and thus reduce the context in which foolishness can thrive.

Just as the market in the USA has now shrunk( to avoid "html coders" for eg ) and you have to be fairly good at what you do to get a job ,the job prospects in Bangalore will depend more on actual and proven ability .

The good coders and managers are still getting excellent salaries in the USA , in spite of the outsourcing mania . It is your average "I know html and j2ee" "programmer" and your PMP certified "manager" who is feeling the heat from cheaper alterntaives and that is how it should be.

An anonymous person commenting on this post pointed out that increased competition helps to drive out the imbeciles and i agreed that while it is not sufficient it ceratinly helps .

When cheaper alternatives exist you have to provide superior value. In Bangalore these days anyone can get a job as a programmer or a manager with no particular skill. Given cheaper alternatives , that will change (somewhat ).

Even then the action of the google founders is inded extraordinary and well worth emulating (and would be very hard to do for most "managers" in India ) .Which was the point of the post .

Anonymous said...

Sorry That was me earlier too... I will add my name in here when I post.

I can see the problems of mediocre/less than mediocre people getting into the coding business, because they have an engineering degree. I personally believe that even if they have the best engineering degree, unless they have the aptitude and attitude for it, they dont belong here.

But, I have my concerns on the economy/job market side of it. It is probably a perversion. But, if these projects go away, it is going to affect a lot of people working there. Well, I am a bit inclined to think hmmm. Now, wouldnt that make things better in Blore. It probably would, considering the abuse Blore has taken. But, it would affect a lot of livelihoods as well. I sympathize on that.

Now, what got us through mediocrity is the management, and a few good developers. The experienced/talented developer would be the work horse of course. But, I am sure this model cannot sustain for long...hence my argument that competition will bring out the best in them.

But as the usual trend, things have to get worse before it gets better.


Prakash said...

Hey Ravi,
I must admit that i agree with anup on the fact that these "cheap" projects sustain several livelihoods and losing those projects would push a lot of families into despair. I find you sadistic when you wish that the whole outsourcing based industry would go away. Live and let live, my friend. Let the very best make it to the top and let the very poor sweep the floors. Why snatch the brooms ?

Ravi said...

ha ha!
well that's the first time anyone called me "sadistic".

The point my friend is that the "brooms" as you call it , will be "snatched" anyway .Wait a couple of years.

I don't see anyone in Bangalore weeping about "sadistic Indians" "snatching the brooms" from the poor starving Americans !

When anyone argues for retaining jobs in the USA, we start talking about the need for "global markets" and labor mobility .And we applaud anyone who says that work should be moved to India .

But when I talk about that happening to Bangalore that is sadism ?

Examine your biases my friend!

If arguing for the elimination of a condition that allows fools to make a lot of money is "sadism" , then so be it .

And anyway that is an "ad hominem" attack .Allow me to quote

"An Ad Hominem is a general category of fallacies in which a claim or argument is rejected on the basis of some irrelevant fact about the author of or the person presenting the claim or argument.

Typically, this fallacy involves two steps.

First, an attack against the character of person making the claim, her circumstances, or her actions is made (or the character, circumstances, or actions of the person reporting the claim).

Second, this attack is taken to be evidence against the claim or argument the person in question is making (or presenting)."

If you have a counter *argument* , I'd like to hear it .

If I am "sadistic" because i want India to have an Industry based on providing superior value and not nbased on being "cheap" then so be it .

I am the Marquis de Sade of the software Industry.

Whatever, dude. Get over it .

Rajesh Babu said...

Few years back, "when computers came into Indian businesses and government organizations", there was restlessness among the people worrying that their jobs will go away. In fact I have personal experience with few people who were saying, "you guys are bringing in computers which will take our jobs away". What really happened was this, the people had to upgrade their skills and learn to use the computers or where doing something better- rather than mundane tasks. And also their sons and daughters joined the "computer industry" and increased the income of the family. In effect, it changed the economic status of many families. IMHO, the Indian IT Industry should have resisted the growth that happened this way in the short term and focused on the longer term. The industry would have taken a hit in the short term, but the industry could have become hardcore technical and do great stuff. Where do we stand in term of computing related to things that are going to rule the future- AI, Nano and Bio?

The world is flat- in terms of the skill availability. Anyone playing only on the cost will face a problem sooner or later. As some will say, "one needs to move up on the value chain". Near-shore development and still cheaper development services are sprouting everywhere.

It is quite past wake-up time, me thinks.

Prakash said...

Yes my friend, i do have reasons to disagree.
1. The planet is not crowded with genius or the talented.They are a rare species.
2. The bulk of the man power in the Indian Software Industry belong to the category of "not so sharp" folks who look at the profession as just another source for bread and butter.
3. The disappearance of these "cheap" jobs whether it be software projects or BPO, would leave behind a void that would suck in a lot more than establishments and industry.
4. When you say that you want india to have an industry based on providing superior value, you have to understand that not everyone needs superior value. When the Indian service providers get involved in the rat race for projects, you have to realise that there are clients who do not require the Fowlers or the Torvalds s or the Stallmans to write their software. They need the ordinary man who writes a piece of code for the same reason as that of a factory worker who slogs 9 to 5.
5. I certainly do not believe that the brooms would be snatched away. When the chinese start to bid cheaper, so would the Indian companies. The fools whose money irks you would still earn, although not as much. The show has to go on, my dear friend.
I do apologise for having used the word "sadistic" in my previous post. I just found you "Insensitive" to the pains and indifferent to the catastrophe that might result if the industry comes down on its knees. There are lives involved my dear friend. The zillions of lines of bad enterprise code and the mainframes would still linger on. The face of the planet cannot be wiped clean of weaklings and fools. they are real and they live and live out their lives. Nazism failed !

Ravi said...

you substitute "Nazism" for "sadistic" :-).

So now I am Adolph Hitler!

I didn't talk of wiping the planet clean .

We are focussing on two facets of the same issue . I don't believe the Industry should run to "provide livelihoods" for incompetent people .

You seem to disagree.
Fair enough .

The difference seems to be that I choose not to do ad hominem attacks . :-)

So i will bring this thread to an end (here , feel free to contact me on mail ) .


Ravi said...

This is in response to a mail I got asking if comments were closed .

No I am not closing comments on the thread ! :-)

Please focus on the content of the thread rather than whether Ravi is Genghis, Hitler etc ;-)

Ad Hominem attacks are easy to make ,but essentially fruitless in taking the discussion forward .

Rather than trying to judge whether people are "good" or" bad" and applying labels , please distill your comments to reflect the idea that people who make comments are genuine about their opinions

For example Rajesh has made a fine comment above (without attributing motives to the commenter to which he responded ). I would love to see responses to that .

Let us keep the discourse civil please . Disagreements are fine but let us all be gentlemen (and ladies too I suppose) .


Shravan said...

Excellent Points. I very much enjoy reading this blog (and the comments) and we could all do without people ascribing ill will to each other .

Ravi makes excellent points.We need more people like him to speak out about the sham the Industry has become/is becoming .

I have to disagree with Rajesh .
Rajesh, what makes you think the Indian Companies

"should have resisted the growth that happened this way in the short term and focused on the longer term. The industry would have taken a hit in the short term, but the industry could have become hardcore technical and do great stuff."

Every company goes where the money is .Why should Indian Companies be any different ?

" Where do we stand in term of computing related to things that are going to rule the future- AI, Nano and Bio?"

Is this what Industry should be doing ? Shouldnt our Universities take up the slack ?

PS : Rajesh, Your blog is excellent, please enable comments !

Rajesh Babu said...


I will be changing my blogging system soon, then will think of comments being open.

Once a company has a cow worth milking, they keep doing that. Seems like a sensible startegy. Some times, the very thing that we are trying to perpetuate will cause harm. Some times, it makes sense to stop relying on the cow that we have and get ready for the next cow. Things are changing fast, the technical wave and globalization effect are changing the market rules.

As I said, in a way Indian IT industry has provided some economic benefits for Indian economy and many Indian families. At the same time, look at the educational institutes and training institutes. They are all milking money out of the wannabe IT company employee. Are we really nurturing hardcore technical people? I doubt it. In one of the recent keynote (SqueakFest'05) that Alan Kay gave, he made a similar observation about India- we have very few highly educated people. We lack lot of infrastructure -yet. Yeah, we have broadband and mobile phone. Still it has not become easy to use and easy to get. I have had lot of personal experiences with lack of good service- people don't have motivation to provide good service.

Why, bother about other industries, let us take software companies itself. [note: of course, there might be few sensible people and sensible companies that are exception to this] How many of our colleagues care or know about the customers (and their business) they are servicing? How many of the clients come back to us again and again? I have had experiences in few big Indian IT companies, where I worked with few managers who did not bother about customers and who were ok with playing around with billing hours etc. I know of other friends who have had similar experiences.

What are the differentiators between Indian IT company and a near shore or still cheaper destinations? Is the next Microsoft or Sun or Google going to originate in India? Is the money that our IT industry is making enough? Is it possible that the Indian IT industry could or should do better?

I suppose this reply is too long. May be I should move to my blog and freak out there :-)

Lastly, about the academic institutions taking up slack. Well, it is my perception that currently the institutions are focused on feeding the current IT industry. In other countries, these areas are being focus of Industry too. Google, the main character of this blog entry is an example. Medical costs in India is still high, and with new technology/techniques/medicines being available in outside market, still costs a lot in India. Wouldn't it be better if our current IT industry makes research and invention in these areas faster, quicker and cheaper in India itself?

I will stop for now and may be continue at my blog over the next few days.

As a parting note, please do check Rajesh Jain's recent blog entry and Alan Kay's keynote.

-- Rajesh Babu

Anonymous said...

Wow...I come back here today and there is a lot of arguments! This gets interesting :-)

Please dont mistake me when I said we should think about the lots of people who might be jobless if the outsourcing industry goes away. We should. But that DOES NOT justify medicroity to be treated as greatness. I am quite capitalistic in my way of thoughts. (quite being the watch word). You cannot fight a trend. It happens because it is huge. But that doesnt mean all hopes are lost...and I dont think anything radical would change it.

In fact, I believe, this is the reason why there is natural selection. It is slow and effective. Well, the hard part to it, of course, is the waiting game.


Ravi said...

you can change the title from "anonymous said" to "Anup said" for your posts by selecting the "other" option rather than "anonymous" and entering "Anup" into the 'name' text box . That way we know you are the one posting before we get the end of your post :-)
The interface is a little non intuitive.

Prakash said...

Ravi...i had stated that "When you say that you want india to have an industry based on providing superior value, you have to understand that not everyone needs superior value. When the Indian service providers get involved in the rat race for projects, you have to realise that there are clients who do not require the Fowlers or the Torvalds s or the Stallmans to write their software. "
As an advocate of superior quality service, what is your opinion on this? As long as the client is ready to live with the cheap army that he gets ( for he cannot expect the elite force to work for him if all he pays is peanuts. I know a behemoth which pays $9/hr), cheap projects and the outsourcing would continue.

Ravi said...

Prakash said
i had stated that "(there are) clients who do not require the Fowlers or the Torvalds s or the Stallmans to write their software. "

And that is a good point .No one has a problem with clients *wanting* mediocre people to work at 9$ /hour or 50 cents /hour or whatever.

I think the major disagreements between us(by us i mean people like say Rajesh and me vs people who think everything is fine and dandy ) are over the desirability of the Indian Software Industry being based on this sort of client (and this sort of project).

As I see it, you think this is a good thing because it provides a livelihood to a lot of not so competent (to put it lightly) people,whether they be programmers or managers .

And as I see it, this is a bad thing, for many reasons,one of which is that I hate my country being identified with cheap incompetent, non creative ,people.

I think we both agree that most people in the iNdian SOftware industry (and its H1/L1 based diaspora) are mediocre.

The shame of the Indian Software Industry is not that everyone is not Torvalds or Stallman .

It is that no one is a Torvalds or Stallman,and everyone is ok with just grabbing the nearest $/H1 Visa /whatever and dedicating their lives to mediocrity.

. And the abysmal standards and worship of hierarchy we foster strangles the creative spirit in its cradle.

In any industry anywhere, there are mediocre parts. But when a whole country's industry is based on the worship of mediocrity , some people including me see a problem.

So Prakash , i don't think we disagree much about the existence of 9$/hour service providers, "factory worker" style programmers, "factory supervisor" style managers, company founders who have no passion for software or technology etc etc. I agree totally with you that they all exist.

The difference seems to be that as long as I live, I shall, with whatever limited talents i have, strive towards a situation where the association of "Indian" with "cheap, non creative, non passionate factory worker" is broken.

And when i see behaviour by people that goes directly against the insane stupidity that pervades the Indian Software industry, I will highlight it. Which is what happened in this blog post.

And when all these folks find themselves out bid by cheaper labor from elsewhere i *will* applaud it .And when a cheaper competitor forces our industry to trim its flab and move up the value chain, i will be thankful, not sad.If the present state of affairs persists for a long time, I will mourn, not exult. That is my personal choice.

So , in essence our disgreements are not so much about the facts of the present but about the shape of the desired future and what needs to be done to bring it about.

And that is fine too .We can have differing visions without calling each other names and making each other "Evil".

And as for the economics, the fallacy here is that the work of one top grade programmer drawing (say) a 100$/ hour is equal or lesser than the work of 10 'normal' programmers drawing 10 $ an hour . there are well known studies that disprove this. I won't go into them in detail as they are well known and can be found on the ent or in the literature.

FYI,In Bangalore these days the "going rates" for an average programmer are about 20 $/hour . The "elite" companies charge a great deal more.So i am not sure where the 10 $/ hour comes from.

Still I won't dispute your figures. I am sure there are people willing to work at 10 $. I just pity all involved , both programmers and clients.

Just as in the USA, a good chunk fo the mediocrities have been forced out due to increased competition from India, it is inevitable that Indian software Industry will also be forced to 'level up' sooner or later.

The angst against "outsourcing" you see in the USA is just a pale precusror of what will happen in a few years in India . And if you have a different opinion on that we'll just wait for history to prove one of us wrong .

As i said, I am not interested in disputing ideology .I am very anti-mediocrity and pro-excellence. That is just who I am.

If your beliefs are different , more power to you friend .