C&B Notes

Why I Left Google

In a recent blog post, former Google employee James Whittaker reflects on his decision to leave the company.  Although it will be difficult to fully assess the situation from the outside looking in, we will watch with interest if the company’s evolving culture helps strengthen its performance or instead disenfranchises the employee base and stifles innovation.  Despite Whittaker’s laments, history seems to indicate that this type of corporate evolution is difficult to avoid once a business reaches a certain size.  As we have noted before, Chick-fil-A has done an amazing job of preserving the culture of the founder as the business has expanded dramatically.  Their example is generally the exception rather than the rule, and makes Clay Christensen’s concept of the “innovator’s dilemma” salient for any growing business.

It wasn’t an easy decision to leave Google.  During my time there I became fairly passionate about the company.  I keynoted four Google Developer Day events, two Google Test Automation Conferences and was a prolific contributor to the Google testing blog.  Recruiters often asked me to help sell high priority candidates on the company.  No one had to ask me twice to promote Google and no one was more surprised than me when I could no longer do so.  In fact, my last three months working for Google was a whirlwind of desperation, trying in vain to get my passion back.

The Google I was passionate about was a technology company that empowered its employees to innovate.  The Google I left was an advertising company with a single corporate-mandated focus.

Under Eric Schmidt ads were always in the background.  Google was run like an innovation factory, empowering employees to be entrepreneurial through founder’s awards, peer bonuses and 20% time.  Our advertising revenue gave us the headroom to think, innovate and create.  Forums like App Engine, Google Labs and open source served as staging grounds for our inventions.  The fact that all this was paid for by a cash machine stuffed full of advertising loot was lost on most of us.  Maybe the engineers who actually worked on ads felt it, but the rest of us were convinced that Google was a technology company first and foremost; a company that hired smart people and placed a big bet on their ability to innovate.

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