CMC Silicon Valley Trip: Thursday

  • The trip started off with a very nice young lawyer showing us the campus and telling us about all of the Google perks and quirks. For example, every worker must be within 150 feet of free food, the building numbers start at 42, some guy built a vending machine that displays prices based on how healthy things are, we take lots of awesome trips, here's a screen that shows what people are searching for in real time, etc. These are traps. The message that everyone should have taken from all of this is, We are fucking good at selling ads. They only afford all of the perks because the people that work there are unbelievably talented, and they don't want those people worrying about anything besides organizing and archiving all of the world's information, and otherwise doing really cool shit. All of the perks are like flashy traps. Never forget that Google is really good at making money.
  • Google is also very good at a meta level; they're not only good at delivering relevant search results and selling ads but they're also good at being a company. Everything at Google is well thought through, and works well. While you're on the toilet, you can read a daily 1-page tutorial on good coding practice. The company is constantly re-evaluating what they are doing and the sort of proceses they use. The word several employees used is "It's a mess around here right now." It was a similar to the practice of the best teachers in the Atlantic article on great teachers from a few days ago - when evaluators want to come see them, they all say that the evaluator can't come in right now, because they're revamping their whole math curriculum or implementing a new module. The theme is constant improvement. Google is trying desperately hard to stay nimble and maintain the ethos of a small startup.
  • I observed that Google employees are very good at getting things done. When something should be done, like the chairs are uncomfortable or the recycling program stinks, Google people are very likely to just do it. Respect.
  • When you assemble the world's greatest talent in one area and create an amazing culture, you can do unbelievable things. Most of the world's greatest works of art were produced in two Italian towns in a period of about 100 years, during the Renaissance. The University of Chicago had pretty much every good economist and finance professor in the 70's and 80's - Fama, French, Coase, Milton Friedman, Gary Becker, Black and Scholes, Harry Markowitz, Kenneth Arrow and Friedrich Hayek were all there. I would argue there's a similar concentration of talent in Silicon Valley right now.
  • Job titles are irrelevant. No one at the company does exactly the same thing for very long - people get shifted around within the company, they work on different projects, they learn about new things. The needs of a company change rapidly, so the idea of training people for specific tasks (or even trying to centrally manage an economy) is a little silly.
  • Monetary compensation isn't as high as at other companies but Google outspends everyone else on perks, and rewards its top talent very well (In the range of baseball player salaries, according to Jonathan Rosenberg). Most people in SV are very focused on work-life balance; short commutes, and doing a job that doesn't drive you up a wall with boredom or frustration. SV people recognize the importance of quality of life.
  • Jonathan Rosenberg is one of the top people at Google. He compared career hunting to surfing; your goal is to catch a big wave and ride it. Rosenberg continually tried to figure out what the next new thing in technology was, from creating information systems within companies, to helping companies collect outside information, to creating fast Internet connections, and finally search, moving from company to company as the hot new product changed. Larry Page and Sergey Brin convinced him of the money in search when they said, "Search is the moment that the user tells the computer what you're looking for."
  • It's interesting to see how companies divide up the workspace. At Meebo, everyone was out in the open, with three or four people all facing each other in clusters. Same at Atlassian. At Google and EA, most people had three-person cubicles. EMC had tall individual cubicles you couldn't see over, and corner offices. Google also had these cool yurt things that blocked out sound and had individual temperature control. Pretty cool.
  • Everyone has at least two screens, usually giant ones. Those aren't cheap; companies must realize that having so many screens helps productivity.
  • The question ramble: In the face of silence, people get nervous. I love when someone asks a question and then starts to ramble on and on, trying to fill the silence. Often they provide a justificat
  • When you're sitting around a conference table, you need to pick your seat well. The best seats are closest to the speaker, on the sides of the table. The next best seats are at the other end of the table, directly facing the speaker. The next best seat is in front of the speaker, so that if you were facing the table your back would be to the speaker (if chairs are there). The worst is on the sides, away from the speaker. Often the speaker takes the side of the table closest to the door. It's a tactical mistake to walk all the way into the room and take the furthest seat; you want to take the best seat and leave the stragglers in the worst spots.
  • The opposite strategy applies for sitting in the backseat of a crowded car. The last person in the car never sits in the middle seat. Thus, delay moving towards the car by all possible means.
  • Google Labs are a way of telling employees that there aren't any rules about which products get chosen; if you have a product you can put it in Labs. To get a product out of Labs, it needs to get used a lot. Google doesn't care much about profitability for their products, because they make so much from ads. They have the luxury of time that many other startups don't.
  • Rosenberg told a great story about how an internship he applied for came down to the final two applicants, himself and Mr. Perfect, who was tall and handsome and beat him at everything. Rosenberg hit it off with the employer's administrative assistant and Mr. Perfect didn't, and Rosenberg got the job. "If you want to know which first-year bankers are going to make it, ask the assistants which ones they like. The ones they like are the ones who are successful." The lesson is be nice to the people that set your schedule; they work harder and for lower pay.
Youtube - Steve Grove '00
  • Steve Grove is a great example of someone who gets stuff done. He proposed to the Kennedy School of Government that he would fly around the world and film their graduates doing all of these amazing things, and they agreed to fund him. So he got to go around the world for free and get some experience filming people.
  • Grove also wrote up YouTube and pitched a politics channel to them. He pretty much built the Youtube politics division from the ground up, and has interviewed many candidates. He took initiative and landed two really cool jobs.
  • It's pretty cheap to generate video and post it on Youtube. How long until we have 24-hour coverage of a candidate? The Barack Obama Youtube channel, giving you 24 hours of Barack, commentary on Barack, testimony from voters, donor drives, etc.
  • Youtube's starting to transcribe videos. This allows you to get an idea of the speech, and then read the rest of the transcription. You can also search within the video by keyword.
  • Before the JK Wedding video, Chris Brown's "Forever" was #270 on the Billboard charts. After the video it shot to #4. Youtube begged UMG not to pull the video, now they share the revenues from ads based on the video. There's money to be made there, instead of pulling content that you produced.

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