A former Google employee who left the company for Microsoft last month has explained his decision in a blog post, and it isn’t pretty.
In a post entitled “Why I left Google,” James Whittaker rips into his former employer for dismantling its culture of innovation and becoming obsessed with Google+, the company’s answer to Facebook. Whittaker, who holds a Ph.D. in computer science, had been an engineering director for Google+, and is now a “web futurist” at Microsoft.
“The Google I was passionate about was a technology company that empowered its employees to innovate,” he wrote. “The Google I left was an advertising company with a single corporate-mandated focus.”
Whittaker explained that during much of his time at the company, employees were encouraged to “invent the future,” and their experiments led to key strategic products like Gmail and Chrome:
Under [former CEO] Eric Schmidt ads were always in the background. Google was run like an innovation factory, empowering employees to be entrepreneurial through founder’s awards, peer bonuses and 20% time … The fact that all this was paid for by a cash machine stuffed full of advertising loot was lost on most of us. Maybe the engineers who actually worked on ads felt it, but the rest of us were convinced that Google was a technology company first and foremost; a company that hired smart people and placed a big bet on their ability to innovate.
When co-founder Larry Page took over as CEO, competing with Facebook became a top priority, Whittaker wrote. In the process, the company shut down Google Labs and started charging for some of its application programming interfaces (APIs), so popular third party apps that relied heavily on services like Google Maps would have to start paying up. The “20 percent time” that employees were allotted to work on their own projects “meant half-assed,” Whittaker wrote.
Social became state-owned, a corporate mandate called Google+. It was an ominous name invoking the feeling that Google alone wasn’t enough. Search had to be social. Android had to be social. You Tube, once joyous in their independence, had to be … well, you get the point. Even worse was that innovation had to be social. Ideas that failed to put Google+ at the center of the universe were a distraction.
Whittaker concludes by saying the old Google was a great place to work, but the new one is “-1″ — a knock on the “+1″ button that Google introduced as an answer to Facebook’s “Like” button.
Keep in mind that making Google look bad has become a favorite pastime for Microsoft recently, so Whittaker’s blog post, hosted at Microsoft’s developer network website, is rather convenient for the company. But Whittaker raises some good points. Even from the outside looking in, Google seems less fancy-free than it used to. Whittaker’s post suggests that the new attitude is affecting Google’s internal culture as well. Google+ may be important to the company, but keeping employees passionate is critical.