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Maxim Saplin
Maxim Saplin

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Google's Future: A Tale of Two Ex-Googlers

Recently there have been 2 curious posts retrospecting on first-hand experience in the company:

  1. Reflecting on 18 years at Google
  2. What I learned getting acquired by Google

Both posts are interesting reading on their own. However, what struck me was how different are the conclusions. It is fascinating to observe the contrasting perspectives of two individuals who have both recently departed from the same company around the same time. Their differing viewpoints highlight the subjective nature of any large organizational experience, where one's role, team, and the projects they work on can significantly shape their outlook.

"Morale is at all time-low"

The first ex-Googler's perspective is tinted with a clear disappointment in the erosion of company culture and values he once found inspiring. Ian witnessed an evolution of the company over his 18-year tenure, which may contribute to a more personally impactful reflection on the changes he perceives as negative. The long duration at the company could also mean he experienced the most formative years of Google's culture, establishing a benchmark that any shift away from might seem like a deterioration. He seems to focus on a perceived decline in transparency, vision, and moral stance within the company, which he directly associates with leadership and management practices that have moved away from the company’s founding principles - "Don't be evil".

The Leviathan is not what it seems to be

The second ex-Googler, an entrepreneur whose company was acquired by Google, offers an account that is more pragmatic and acknowledges the organization's complexity and challenges while still recognizing its strengths and potential. Her viewpoint is shaped by the unique journey of being acquired and integrated into a different ecosystem, learning to navigate and leverage the advantages that a corporation like Google affords. This ex-Googler recognizes the bureaucratic hurdles and inefficiencies but ultimately views these challenges as part of the game within a powerhouse company capable of achieving extraordinary technological feats. The caliber of problems Google can undertake is in part due to it being a giant.

A question of perspective

This polarity of view illustrates that there is rarely a single, unifying narrative when it comes to a company's internal dynamics, especially one as large and multifaceted as Google. Each employee's journey is influenced by their personal interactions, management, adjustment to policy changes, and the evolving company culture over time. These articles underscore that the subjective nature of workplace experiences can result in vastly different accounts of what it's like to work within the same corporate environment.

From dusk till dawn

The differing perspectives can be viewed through the lens of organization life cycle theories, such as Clayton Christensen’s "Innovator’s Dilemma" and Ichak Adizes's Corporate Lifecycle model

In Christensen's concept, established companies often fail to stay at the forefront of innovation because they focus on current customer needs and profit margins instead of pursuing disruptive technologies that initially may not seem profitable. Google started as a disruptor in the search engine space and expanded into numerous other areas. The first ex-Googler’s perspective suggests that Google may now be prioritizing short-term gains over innovation, which aligns with the dangers outlined in the "Innovator’s Dilemma." In contrast, the second ex-Googler's experience may reflect the phase where Google, although large and facing potential innovator’s dilemma challenges, still offers the infrastructure and resources to innovate—albeit within a more complex and bureaucratic framework.

According to Adizes's lifecycle model, organizations go through stages: Courtship, Infancy, Go-go, Adolescence, Prime, Signs of aging, Aristocracy, Recrimination, Bureaucracy, and Death. Each stage has its characteristics and challenges.

In the context of Adizes's model, the perspectives can be seen as signaling a transitional phase for Google, balancing on the threshold between "Prime" and "Aristocracy." Google, through its ventures and the talent it attracts, harnesses the dynamism and ingenuity to continue innovating, as evidenced by the successful integration of the second ex-Googler's startup. However, as the first ex-Googler points out, the escalation of bureaucratic tendencies and a shift in cultural values may signal the beginning of a gradual decline in entrepreneurship and creativity - elements essential for a company to remain in the prime phase

What comes next

The 2023 was a challenge for Google. While being a cradle of attention mechanism and transformer architecture (which underpins ChatGPT) the company was not the one to productize the technology. In spring there was a famous "We have no moat" insider memo from Google that explained why Google is not built and positioned to be successful in the foundation models race.

Early in the year, Microsoft led the way in AI internet search with GPT4-powered Bing AI, ~ 3 months ahead of Google. While Bard was still at work there were leaks explaining that Google had its criteria of quality that didn't allow it to go fast (resonates with the second opinion).

And according to Statista Microsoft did succeed in taking its piece of the pie:

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No surprise that recently Bill Gates said that abandoning Windows phone was Microsoft's biggest mistake. Seeing how GPT4 revived such a long time underdog as Bing Search brings the dreams of an alternative reality where Microsoft had Windows Phone with 1% market share and CoPilot giving it a second life.

Is Google turning into IBM/HP/Kodak? Will it be able to pivot? Well, who cares, as long as the next company coming to replace it is not Microsoft ;)

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