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What's Wrong with Google? According to an Insider, These Four Things

Google LogoEarlier this month, the founder of AppSheet, Praveen Seshadri, posted a long piece on Medium about why he left Google.

It’s an interesting read on “what ails Google” (as it’s subtitled):

Yet, now at the expiry of my three year mandatory retention period, I have left Google understanding how a once-great company has slowly ceased to function.

Google has 175,000+ capable and well-compensated employees who get very little done quarter over quarter, year over year. Like mice, they are trapped in a maze of approvals, launch processes, legal reviews, performance reviews, exec reviews, documents, meetings, bug reports, triage, OKRs, H1 plans followed by H2 plans, all-hands summits, and inevitable reorgs. The mice are regularly fed their “cheese” (promotions, bonuses, fancy food, fancier perks) and despite many wanting to experience personal satisfaction and impact from their work, the system trains them to quell these inappropriate desires and learn what it actually means to be “Googley” — just don’t rock the boat. As Deepak Malhotra put it in his excellent business fable, at some point the problem is no longer that the mouse is in a maze. The problem is that “the maze is in the mouse”.


To some extent, the things he talks about happen to all large organizations.  If it’s a three-man shop, your every action has tremendous impact; less so at 300 people, and you’re invisible at 300,000.  The more people are in the system, the greater the communication and coordination overhead.  It’s why armies have so many soldiers who are not on the front lines.

But Seshadri also talks about the extreme hesitation to do anything bold, or even to make meaningful changes.

One of Google’s core values is “respect each other”. There’s two ways to interpret this : I’d hoped it would be to respect the unique strengths of each person and figure out how to get each person to maximize their potential and impact. Unfortunately, this runs into the general organizational lack of desire to change anything. “Respect each other” is translated into “find a way to include and agree with every person’s opinion”. In an inclusive culture (good —it doesn’t withhold information and opportunity) with very distributed ownership (bad), you rapidly get to needing approval from many people before any decision can be made. If this were an algorithm, we’d call it “most cautious wins” and there is almost always someone who is cautious tending to should-do-nothing. Add in that often the people involved have wildly different knowledge and capability and skin-in-the-game, and there’s always going to be someone uncomfortable enough to want to do nothing. Therefore any decision out of the existing pre-approved plan or diverging from conventional wisdom is near impossible to achieve, just as the existing pre-approved plan is near impossible to change.

There are further system dysfunctions where a bias towards sustainability discourages heroism – which sounds good in theory, because you don’t want an environment where you live and die by irreplaceable individuals.  But in practice, it means if someone wants to work extra, it’s hard to do so because it means other would have to work hard and it becomes political very quickly.

Most of it is organizational but there’s some interesting insights into Google’s “antiquated” tech stack (known as Google3), which is described as cutting-edge two decades ago.  Not surprisingly, Google suffers from “not invented here” syndrome, though they have invented quite a few things: Angular, Golang, Dart, etc.

He develops four themes:

  1. Google has no mission.
  2. Everyone is way too relaxed and spinning wheels in easy jobs.
  3. Everyone is afraid to touch things built long ago because, well, that’s the way Google is.  He labels this “delusions of exceptionalism”.
  4. Fundamental mismanagement.

If you’d like a peek inside Google, this piece is a must-read.



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