Random ruminations as I figure out and deal with life, grad school, being an engineer and a product manger; learn more about technology, marketing, economics, news, writing short stories and other stuff that distracts me from doing whatever I'm supposed to be doing....
I wasn't expecting to try to read the book, but a comment from a long-time Googler that Steven Levy "probably knows more about Google and its history than almost any Googler" was enough to get me interested.
I was very, very pleasantly surprised. Even controlling for the fact that its the most recent book on Google, I do think its the best book ever written about the company (and there have been a bunch!)
I read a couple just before I was going to join the company nearly four years ago, and I'd assumed that my time here and my general curiosity and pokiness (I know - not a word) meant that I knew a lot about the company, its history and a lot of our businesses but I learned a lot reading Levy's book - what helps make it extremely readable are the anecdotes and the details - little nuggets like why Scott Hassan re-wrote the crawler in Python; how Eric Veach thought about the ads system, the dynamics and personalities in the early days and GPSes etc.
The things that I knew about (search, infrastructure, the ads system, YouTube, Android etc.) I enjoyed incredibly accessible explanations for and interesting anecdotes about ...and the things I knew just a little about I learned so much more about (especially China, the interactions with the government and about the Books Settlement.) Its also fun having a few people that you know or work with show up in a book.:)
There are a couple of minor errors that threw me off (like a couple of PMs being referred to as engineers and few product/name typos here and there), but hopefully those get fixed in the reprint.
If you're looking for a detailed, balanced, accessible and extremely insightful look into the company this is the book to read. What I was left with though was a portrait of some truly incredible individuals: particularly Larry, Sergey and Eric - but also many, many of the incredible people they drew into this company.
The sheer ambition, ability and vision of these people, combined with the values they have maintained left me feeling incredibly proud to work here, and just as excited about the future.
Every once in a while, I'm reminded that humans can be completely lacking in humanity.
My wife had the following experience yesterday on her ride back home. She got on the train and found a seat. The train was unusually crowded and it looked a lot of people had to stand for a long ride. An elderly Asian gentleman carrying a few things in both hands, was looking for spot, started to complain smilingly about the train being so full and stood in the aisle at the back of the carriage some seats away from her.
She expected someone closer to gentleman in the aisle (lots of younger people on the train) to give him their seat.
No one did.
The train started, and it was clear the man was having a lot of trouble standing up. Then at the next stop there was actually an announcement saying the train was full so please give up your seats to people who needed them.
Still nobody moved.
My wife got up walked to the end of the train and asked the gentleman to go over to her seat. She still couldn…
I've been really enjoying the Freakonomics podcast of late. This episode and the lesson we should take a away from it, was a stark reminder of one of the most important things we should be doing - but often don't - in building products or making any decisions: measuring the impact of absolutely everything we do, including the things that seem obviously good.
I recommend listening to the podcast if you have the time, but here's the summary. Stephen Dubner describes the Cambridge Sommerville Youth Study. The impact of social intervention programs in general is hard to measure and so they seldom are. This was the first attempt at measuring the impact over a long period of time.
It's a great story and there are a few good take-aways, but here's the main one: troubled or at-risk youth that received mentoring (good mentoring!) had worse life outcomes across every dimension than the kids that were left alone. Despite the recipients saying that the mentoring was incredibl…