How the Net was won

By: | Published: November 23, 2014 12:08 AM

How Google Works, a book on how the search giant operates, is breezily written with a very clear thought process

How Google Works
Eric Schmidt &
Jonathan Rosenberg
Hachette
Rs 443
Pp 304

THE NAME ‘Google’ is synonymous with the rising dominance of the Internet economy today—at least by default. Therefore, any literature on how this search giant operates, functions or its philosophy is a welcome read. And it becomes even more important when it is written by two executives of the company who are at the helm of affairs, offering a ringside view of a firm modelled on a university culture, but one that is also financially very successful.

Eric Schmidt, chairman, Google, and Jonathan Rosenberg, adviser to CEO Larry Page, provide an insightful account of the factors that have made Google a $55-billion—and still growing—creative engine in the book, How Google Works.

Going through the pages, one can see a significant influence of Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin on how the company operates. “The management tactics the founders used to run the company were equally simplistic. Like the professors in their Stanford computer science lab, who did not dictate what their thesis projects should be but rather provided direction and suggestions, Larry and Sergey offered their employees plenty of freedom and used communication as a tool to keep everyone in the same general direction. They had a very strong belief in the profound importance of the Internet and the power of search, and they communicated these points via informal meetings with the small engineering teams that populated the Google offices, and through company-wide ‘TGIF’ meeting held every Friday afternoon, where any topic was fair game for discussion,” the authors write.

People form the crux of any organisation and the book very eloquently and quite frequently uses the term ‘smart creative’, which means a person who combines deep technical knowledge of his or her trade with intelligence, business savvy and a host of creative qualities, say Schmidt and Rosenberg. The authors, perhaps rightly, claim that Google is filled with such people who are brilliant at their jobs, but are not fettered by a narrow definition of their responsibilities.

In the initial years of Google, Page, unhappy with Google AdWords—an advertising service that places ad copy besides the list of search results Google displays for a particular search query—posted this on the bulletin: “THESE ADS SUCK”. The response in terms of a solution came from a group of engineers who were not even part of the ads’ team.

The first part of the book gives the flavour of a company, which is egalitarian in its functioning—CEO Schmidt has no qualms sharing his room with an engineer; the company is even famous for allowing employees to bring their pets to the workplace. The core of a company, say the authors, lies in having a rigorous process of selecting the right candidate regardless of the time it consumes. The book goes into great detail to describe how this process is conducted at Google and provides quite a few valuable insights: “Hire only when you’ve found a great candidate. Don’t settle for anything less.”

The insights about people in the book are valuable as well as funny. Take, for instance, the use of the terms ‘diva’ and ‘knave’, with the latter representing shirkers. The book also coins the term, HiPPO, or highest paid person’s opinion. The authors, perhaps quite rightly, say it is best to
disregard it.

How Google Works brings out the element of fun at work at Google and the passion employees bring in to work every day. However, this does not mean that there is no corporate-style monitoring or checks on the progress of various projects. The singular theme for Google has always been ‘think of the user and think big’. For example, Vint Cerf, chief Internet evangelist of Google, has already spoken about the inter-planetary Internet system. How big can one get?

Schmidt and Rosenberg also do not skirt the most important issue Google has faced till now: censorship in China. Despite the divided opinion among top executives of the company given China’s market size and the company’s own philosophy, they did have an intense discussion about it. And when they came to the decision of withdrawing, they rallied all employees around them.

Apple founder Steve Jobs has been mentioned quite a number of times in the book. The authors give him an exalted status, which comes across as grudging admiration for a man whose philosophy was quite the opposite with respect to Google. However, one common thing that binds both Apple and Google is their hunt for the right talent. The book also dwells on the collaborative culture of Silicon Valley in the US, where tech entrepreneurs are always ready to help others, even competitors.

The latter part of the book, which talks about issues such as making decisions, communication and innovation, is a bit dry.

However, the self-deprecatory remarks of the authors where they readily admit their failures and mistakes are a heartening aspect of the book. They also take it in their stride when employees poke fun at them.

Given the popularity of Google, there is always an element of curiosity about this technology giant, and this book fills the gap with interesting anecdotes and a first-hand account. It is also sprinkled with a dry sense of humour and peppered with plenty of footnotes, something the reader should not ignore, as these are insightful, pithy and often filled with wisdom.

How Google Works makes for an easy read, even for a layman. It is breezily written with a very clear thought process. It also doesn’t employ much tech jargon, which one usually encounters in books about technology companies.

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