Sunday, November 27, 2011

Review: I'm Feeling Lucky

I never encountered Doug Edwards in person at Google, so when I'm Feeling Lucky hit the shelves, I took my time getting to it, since I was familiar with many of the details behind the story.

Well, I finally checked out the book from the local library, and I'm glad I did. First of all, it's cool to see names and people you're familiar with. For instance, upon request, Edwards provided a pseudonym for a well-known engineer, "Claus." Well, as a Googler, it would take you all of 10 pages to figure out who "Claus" was, so what's anonymous for others isn't anonymous for you. Secondly, as a Googler, some mysteries are solved through stories from the old days. For instance, if you've always wondered why a certain executive is hated, this book explains why that person wasn't just hated by his/her reports, but also by other functional teams. It even explained to me why a certain engineer, despite his critical role in the company (and was one of the first ten employees) was denied refresher options and essentially told to leave. If you're a current or ex-googler, this sort of gossip is fun and explains certain behavior that has roots somewhere in the murky past and which makes no sense today and (in many case) didn't even make sense back when I joined in 2003.

This is primarily a book written from a marketing person point of view. Furthermore, it's written by Google's brand manager. You're not going to find the sort of nitty gritty technical details that would please someone whose life was devoted to Hacker News, for instance. On the other hand, the business milestones are documented in great detail: the AOL deal, the Yahoo deal, and the various Overture deals. Unfortunately, you're not going to get a lot of strategic insight: Edwards wasn't privy to those, and a 20 minute conversation with PengToh would do you a lot more good than reading this book if you wanted those.

Nevertheless, Edwards does provide some insight into the engineering organization. For instance, Google is famous about not providing positive feedback inside the engineering organization. I've met retired ex-Googlers worth multiple tens of millions in net-worth who still seem emotionally scarred by the experience of doing amazing stuff that never got any recognition. What I didn't realize at that time was that this is part of Google's engineering DNA, buried deep inside its founders and early employees. If you hire former Google engineers, read this book, and you won't be as surprised as some Facebook managers who told me, "I thought I was getting a good engineer, but I wasn't prepared for how political Google engineers got as a result of their never received proper recognition inside Google and having to fight for any sort of recognition as a result." That makes the book well worth reading for this insight alone, not just in case you happen to hire Google engineers, but to also ensure that your engineering culture doesn't end up like that, because while obviously it didn't hurt Google, there was no need to do this to otherwise valuable people.

All in all, I think this book is well worth reading, and definitely worth paying the Kindle price for. If you're affiliated with Google at all, I would encourage you to read this book. If you've got even a modicum of curiosity about Google, this book is so well-written that you will not feel like you've wasted your time. Recommended.
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