Did you ever wonder what it’s like to work at Google? Now you can find out. Well, that’s only part true. Edwards was Google employee number 59 and worked there from 1999 till 2005. We should perhaps instead have asked: Did you ever wonder what it was like to be Douglas Edwards while he worked at Google?
We listened to the Audible unabridged version of this book (at double speed — it’s addictive), and found it to be an appealing account of a work-place totally dominated by engineers — or should we say nerds?
Edwards sets the scene by recounting an episode from 2002 where he basically asks Page for a confirmation that, although Page and Brin had been right most of the time, Edwards’ expertise had also been important to the company. Page answers dryly: “When have we not been right?” And such is Edwards’ depiction of the nerd couple being Larry Page and Sergei Brin. They sincerely believe that they are right, that what they are doing is right and that anyone who believes otherwise is simply misguided.
Edwards ends up being misguided a lot of the time. And he is honest about it in his book. After all, his background in marketing is of the traditional type. He came from an executive position in marketing at the newspaper of the Valley, turned down an offer with Yahoo!, only to end up working with a future CEO of Yahoo!: Marissa Meyers just got hired at Yahoo!, but used to work alongside Edwards as a UI expert and later in the product management group reporting directly to Larry Page. It’s safe to say that Meyers and Edwards didn’t get along so well.
The book is largely anecdotal. Hear about the firing of middle-managers in a public staff meeting; Vice-President Al Gore spending his abundance of spare time wandering the corridors of the Google HQ and Eric Schmidt entering the scene during the long-lasting process of “we should probably get ourselves a CEO”.
Edwards asked Eric Schmidt, after a particularly exhilarating argument with Page and Brin in which Schmidt backed Edwards, if he didn’t think Page and Brin were a handful sometimes. Schmidt supposedly answered:
“I’m well compensated. Now, excuse me while I walk around the building a few times.”
September 11 affected the people at Google in much the same way that it affected anyone else. One early response was “Is Google alive?” meaning, are the people at the Manhattan office OK? Yet, the account of decisions made in the surge for information following the attack is memorable.
Edwards took compromises in a lot of places in order to spend time at Google. We say he was motivated by his eagerness to be a part of something bigger. When that feeling went away, he left Google in March 2005. He felt lucky, and he probably was.
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