15 January 2009

Take the Red Pill

The tubes are alive this morning with talk of Google in crisis with closures and layoffs, all this at a company that within the last year declared it's advertising revenue to be recession proof.

The loudest voices that I have heard have been from the vast hordes of Jaiku users, who awoke to learn that their service would no longer be supported by the Mountain View giant. Barely one year ago Jaiku was bought by Google, who promptly closed the doors to new sign-ups, though existing users could still invite new users (much in the way of the early days of GMail). The service had been plagued by technical difficulties throughout the year caused by the on-again, off-again migration to the Google Ap Engine, and a fear started to grow that Google were never serious about supporting it as a stand alone product.

Google's MO is to buy a product it likes, strip out the technology (and occasionally people) that it wants to integrate into its other services, and let the rest slowly die the death of a thousand paper-cuts. Very few start-up founders stay within the warm embrace of the Googleplex, finding the atmosphere too stifling and unable to watch the evisceration of their baby. The story of Dodgeball's Denis Crowley and Alex Rainert's experience of life with Google is a now legendary cautionary tale of woe and strife and has caused some to think twice about being acquired - though normally the oodles of money Google throws at you is enough to silence any creative concerns you have. Also interesting to note is the office closures mentioned in the press releases, what Google refers to as "satellite engineering offices", which is Googlespeak for acquired companies, folks who had been bought and allowed to stay in situ, but are now being told move to a proper Google office or leave. Being bought by Google is a very mixed blessing indeed.

Jaiku will now go open source, released into the wild and, in all truth, will be the better for it, as the dedicated community of users will be able to grow it far more than it ever would under Google. I like Jaiku - it is a much more European service than Twitter, has a friendlier atmosphere, and has far fewer of the "look at me, I'm important" egos running around on it (well, maybe it does, but they are all Jaikuing in Finnish so the rest of us don't really notice).

For me the biggest news of note is the first round of layoffs of actual Google employees. Google has spent the last year significantly trimming back its contract staff, but today saw the first redundancies of permanent Google staff with the loss of 100 recruiters. Given the fact that the vast majority of staff in recruiting had been contract staff (almost all of whom had been removed over the last year), the scale of this loss is very significant indeed, especially for what it signals about future Google growth.

The most painful part of Google for anyone involved is the hiring process. All hiring (beyond the most junior positions) is centrally approved in Mountain View, and the approval process is a Kafka-esque bureaucratic nightmare. Each candidate is interviewed by at least 6 separate people, between phone and on-site interviews. The more senior the position, the more interviews - I know of one unfortunate soul who persevered through seventeen separate interviews over a three month period. Each interviewer has to write an extensive report on the candidate, judging their abilities under numerous criteria, and when a local decision has been made to hire a candidate a hiring document containing all the reports from all the interviewers has to be created, along with a full resume, academic transcripts, references etc, and a covering summary that binds everything together. This report can be over 40 pages in length. Once the report is completed it then starts its way through the labyrinthine series of committees that compares each candidate to all other candidates that other departments under their jurisdiction are trying to hire before giving its approval and passing it up to the next committee. The further away you are from Mountain View the more committees a candidate needs to pass through for final approval. Even for some time after the IPO, Larry Page still gave final approval for any candidate, regardless of how junior.

And for every candidate hired, scores more have been interviewed and rejected. The workload involved in the recruitment process is simply staggering. It is the recruiter that marshals this process, collates the information, feeds back to all involved at every stage in the process, and most importantly it is the recruiter that keeps the candidate on the hook throughout the weeks that it may take.

It is highly unlikely that Google will lower its hiring standards at any time in the foreseeable future, so the loss of 100 recruiters does not indicate a change or improvement in the process itself, rather it shows that Google is seriously reducing its hiring numbers, perhaps not even replacing natural attrition, in effect bolting the doors shut until the recession has passed.

And all of this is before Obama stops multinationals like Google using Ireland as a tax haven. Just how deep is this rabbit-hole going to go?



At 1:50 pm, Blogger Niall Murphy said...

Thanks for highlighting how I'm going to lose my job, my house, and will have every last little thing stripped from me before I die naked and shivering on the streets.

Maybe I can turn to poetry :)

At 3:45 pm, Blogger Unkie Dave said...

Hey, I didn't say you were going to loose your job, just that nobody else was going to be hired to take the burden off of your shoulders, and you will probably be driven to the edge of despair and beyond as the workload increases exponentially with a corresponding decrease in resources, until what tenuous grasp on reality you have remaining finally snaps and you are left drooling and gibbering as you secrete endless lines of "all work and no play makes Niall a dull boy" into code that when found by a 16 year old Chinese hacker oblivious to your pain and suffering serves as little more than an amusing Easter egg.

Not the same thing at all.


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