Racetrack or Autobahn?

As I am still reading Chaos Monkeys, I came through this brilliant paragraph.

Even Facebook, whose ability to maintain a fast-moving, always-be-shipping culture well into corporate middle age was admirable and unique, was simply a German-style autobahn, not a racetrack. The days of a few engineers going rogue and launching Facebook Video despite Zuck’s wishes were long gone. Most vehicles moved at the speed limit, lots of trucks hogged the right lane, and a select few drivers traveled at full speed in the left lane (with no-speed-limit passes given out by Zuck alone, and anyone else who dared race ahead did so at peril to his or her career).

When people ask me what was the culture at booking.com, I used to say it is not a startup as they claim, but it is also not a corporate à la IBM or Oracle. It is something in the middle I couldn’t describe, until I read that paragraph. That’s it, “it was simply a German-style autobahn”. Teams are autonomous, but they can only move within the speed limits of their tracks, few teams had the green light to pursue new and bold ideas, as long as they are not far from the core (read about the stack fallacy).

This post is not to criticize but rather to draw a mental model of how to think about it. I am very grateful for the time I spent there. I learned so much and met many great people. I believe there are areas like SEM, conversion optimization, and pragmatic usage of data/machine learning, Booking.com is one of the best places on the planet to learn and work on these things (if you pass their tough interviews).

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