A highly toxic environment. Cover photo by ATDSPHOTO on Pixabay.
The views expressed in this opinion piece are entirely my own. They do not represent any organization.
I used to have a lot of respect for Google's GDE (Google Developers Experts) program. I still have a lot of respect for the people in the program, but I have lost every last bit of respect for the Angular category of the program itself in its current form because of how it's being managed. I haven't been an Angular GDE myself, but I have seen enough to have an opinion on this. It's not for me and here's why.
The fake, overly-optimistic tone that drives the communication from the Angular team and completely ignores critical issues seems to have found its way into the Angular GDE program as well.
I know many Angular GDEs and it seems that some of them have a constant fear to speak their mind freely about issues concerning the Angular framework and the Angular team.
From what I've seen, there are many dreads that prevent them from engaging in the Angular community by raising or addressing these concerns. I've seen signs of:
- Fear of retaliation
- Fear of losing their GDE title
- Fear of not being employable by Google
- Fear of being excluded for violating the code of conduct without further explanation
- Fear of getting complaints to the Angular management's network in the Angular community
At the same time, it seems pretty clear that--like the Angular team members--scripted responses border-lining to evangelism and propaganda are taught to the Angular GDEs. Whether Angular GDEs realize it or not, they are governed by the rules in a communication manifesto for the Angular team.
I have learned that there are certain terms or sentences that Angular GDEs are not allowed to say. For example, they are not allowed to say "let's get rid of NgModules". They have to say "Angular supports optional NgModules".
Sometimes Angular GDEs are not allowed to speak about upcoming features or versions of Angular. Maybe because the spokespeople of the Angular team have had an ugly history of promoting features such as Angular version 2, Angular Ivy, Bazel, and Angular Elements years before they were production ready.
Every piece of knowledge spoken in public should be aligned with guidelines from the Angular team management and should be in line with the communication manifesto.
The concept of "if you have nothing nice to say, don't say anything" applies. Especially when it comes to anything remotely related to Angular or Google.
This is in stark contrast to Microsoft's MVP (Most Valuable Professional) program where they welcome objective opinions to the point that Microsoft employees are not allowed to become Microsoft MVPs and no money is involved between Microsoft and the MVP awardee. The MVP program appreciates honest opinions raising issues where Microsoft can improve the program or their products.
This is not a competition between the GDE and MVP programs, but I want to point out that there are other approaches to driving a program that supports technical communities around a company's products.
Who's responsible for this fear-driven leadership? I recommend that you refer to Jeff Cross' personal accounts in "Jeff's Letter to the Angular Team and Community" and recent Twitter discussions about this  for context. At this point, this should come as no surprise. After all, only two or three people are left from the original Angular team.
For years, what seems like an unlimited pool of talented people have parted ways with the Angular team. Too many to be named, but here's a few of them:
- Matias Niemelä
- Kara Erickson
- Rob Wormald
- Alex Eagle
- Vikram Subramanian
- Brad Green
- Ben Lesh
- Brandon Roberts
- Olivier Combe
- Hans Larsen
- Jason Aden
- Mike Brocchi
- Victor Savkin
- Jeff Cross
- Rob Eisenberg
They all left for different reasons, but we have witnessed members leaving the Angular team speaking about burnout, ridicule, and even anxiety. This doesn't come from scope creep combined with overly optimistic deadlines alone.
Serious personal injuries like these come from the worst team cultures in companies that enable individuals to micromanage, abuse and harass their peers. Leadership is about enabling your team, not disabling them.
The Angular team has a toxic working environment. The Angular team management has enabled this for years. This has resulted in a high churn on the Angular team. Many team members have either relocated within Google or left this toxic working environment.
One of the benefits of joining the GDE program is access to Google's product teams that are relevant to the respective GDE categories.
Even though Angular has people in developer relations, access to the Angular team has proven close to non-existent unless you're a massive enterprise who probably spends a lot money with Google.
Apparently, GDEs barely have a better chance at staying in touch with the Angular team. They are mostly kept at arm's length from the Angular community except for one time per year where they all attend a conference in the United States.
I have heard from several frustrated conference and meetup organizers who have unsuccessfully attempted to get Angular team members to attend their events, with a few exceptions.
Angular GDE title or not, the community has poor access to the Angular team and poor insight into their plans for the framework. Not because of the team itself, but because of management.
Another example of this is an unnamed Angular GDE who asked questions to Angular team members at one of those few conferences where they were actually present. This GDE learned that you don't ask too many questions about the team's work or the framework's direction, not even to help support the Angular community.
The GDE in question received a warning for being in violation of the code of conduct without further explanation helping them understand what to do differently. Apparently, asking the Angular team questions about their work makes them feel like they're being held hostage, according to their managers. So much for Google product team access.
Speaking of code of conduct, I have witnessed harassment and public shaming of an Angular GDE by another Angular GDE. I even became the target of this myself when I stood up for the person being harassed.
This had been going on for weeks. When this became a public affair that the GDE program could no longer ignore, the harasser received a warning. At first, the person ignored the warning and kept harassing me and a third Angular GDE coming to the defense of the person being harassed. We were told to leave the harasser alone.
Eventually, the harassing Angular GDE was forced to stop their harassment and send out a public apology. I asked an Angular GDE whether anyone was ever excluded from the program because of something like this. That was not the case, to this person's knowledge. It didn't happen in this case either.
I don't know about you, but all of these issues have become unacceptable to me to the point that I question whether I want to continue to contribute anything to the Angular ecosystem and community.
I have met so many nice people in the Angular community and we're not causing these issues, but we enable them by not speaking up.
This is a request for the Angular team management and Angular GDE program committee to start making changes instead of excuses. To address these issues instead of ignoring them.
This is a request for you to speak up. Enough is enough. Demand change!
Read examples of technical consequences because of issues like these in "Angular struggles in 2020".