Google, Google everywhere …and there’s a lot to learn

I have been reading a couple of books on Google since the past 2 weeks. I wanted to read them earlier, but I kept putting it off, because somehow it seemed that any book on Google would only be about the author heaping praises on what Google did — fan boy fiction, if I may use the term.

Well, how wrong I was! I keep disliking the monopoly that Google has become, and if it is not apparent to many, it has actually become a huge learning machine, which has no parallel with any other machine. If you have been following “Person of Interest” (the TV series), I can confidently say that Google has the most potential to come up with the A.I. system that the series shows.

But I am digressing. I actually do not like the monopoly that Google has, but the systems that Google has built are far too superior for my opinion to count for anything :). But when it came to reading up books on Google, that perception persisted. Any author covering Google would only be singing praises, I thought. I was wrong.

The first book I read was “Work Rules!” by Laszlo Bock, who he is the head of People Operations (the not-so-equivalent of the HR function at Google). It is a fascinating read and details the culture, the work ethic, how hiring is done, how any people policy is implemented — basically everything which makes Google the way it is.

I will not get into all the details, but I urge you to read this book. Any serious professional (and not just restricted to startups or conventional HR) needs to go through the practices detailed in the book. It is a gold mine, and a ready reckoner on how to build your culture and your team. This is definitely how work will be managed in the future, and boy — that’s how it is being managed right now at Google. I can confidently say a significant majority of companies wouldn’t even think this is the way to run a company.

And lest you think otherwise, this is NOT a book about Google at all. I mean, it is in one way, but the practices detailed here can be taken up by anyone wanting to build a high-performance culture.

“We spend more time working than doing anything else in life. It’s not right that the experience of work should be so demotivating and dehumanizing.”
— Laszlo Bock, head of People Operations at Google and the author of this book

Some highlights of the book:

  • Take away managers’ power over employees
  • Learn from your best employees-and your worst
  • Hire only people who are smarter than you are, no matter how long it takes to find them
  • Pay unfairly (it’s more fair!)
  • Don’t trust your gut: Use data to predict and shape the future
  • Default to open — be transparent and welcome feedback
  • If you’re comfortable with the amount of freedom you’ve given your employees, you haven’t gone far enough

I take back any misgivings I had about people getting blinded by Google’s monopoly. It is a monopoly for sure. But I will not make this mistake again of not learning from it. This is hands-down the best people oriented book you might have ever read. Read it, take notes, read it again, implement…

I haven’t finished the second book yet — halfway through. This is “In The Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives” by Steven Levy.

Side note: I am writing this blog post on my personal Google Docs account — how apt!

This book has started off beautifully, and I am loving it. It details the origins of Google, the way they started, the competition at that time, the interaction with investors, customers…a sneak peek into Google. I must say this book is very inspiring. Larry Page and Sergey Brin are brilliant — not that they need my endorsement :). But this book takes you into their journey. Google was not the behemoth it is currently back when it started. And so, what this book definitely does is dispel a lot of myths around it, and a lot of the misconceptions I have about their direction.

Two things that are definitely going to keep Google where it is — and this is for all you guys to note too.

  1. People — the insanely brilliant people working at Google
  2. The giant, unimaginable infrastructure at their disposal

I can’t emphasise the 2nd point enough. They made search work at scale with this, they made it better by using the data generated by users inserting search queries (searching, in layman terms :) ). They translated documents into multiple languages using this infrastructure. Maps, Docs, Sheets…everything is run on the same infrastructure.

To compete against Google is no mean endeavor. You will need to implement a similar class of infrastructure to even think of competing. This just changes your world view too.

Now I know why Google does what it does, and how. This year, please God, let this understanding influence my work :)

This post was originally published at on January 24, 2016.

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