November 26, 2013

Working at Google is Living in the Future

It's been about two and a half years since I joined Google.

After years of getting to know the company's people and culture nearly as well as I knew their products as a user and as a blogger, I picked up a badge in 2011, and have spent most of my waking hours during the weekdays since in Mountain View. I currently run Google Developers Live.

There are many assumptions about Google out there. I read lots of them. I hear others. Knowing the company and its people as I did when I joined meant I wasn't dramatically surprised by much - but one of the core things that is assumed to be true externally and remains true internally is that working at Google is like working in the future. That's true not just for visibility into longer-term projects which are secret or fall into the category of speculative, but also when it comes to day to day.

It's not uncommon, as an employee, to be aware of future announcements, to be using new services and applications, and more commonly, future versions of these services. Those of us who actively participate in 'dogfooding' of new things have to do an internal check to remember just what features are already out and which ones aren't yet, which devices are launched and which ones aren't, and where's a safe place to use apps to avoid curious eyes and hands. It can even get exciting when one makes a screenshot on their computer or phone, and has to take a quick scan to make sure nothing that's not supposed to get out to the public yet does.

Keeping a mental checklist of what's launched, about to launch, and hasn't launched requires some sort of cerebral gymnastics - making public discussion a challenge for those who have an engaged community, and cementing some introverts' decisions to remain quiet, for the best avoidance of risk is to say nothing and let those who run comms to run comms, after all.

Getting my occasional glimpse into the future here at Google was a definite contributor to the slowdown of posts and observations of the tech industry at large, starting in 2011, after regular daily posts for years many of you got used to. It wasn't just that people assumed I had newfound biases and conflicts due to working for one of the most active and influential companies on the planet, but also because, as you can expect, knowing our future roadmap made comments on current deliverables by us or by others more problematic.

For example, since the world adores car analogies, it's hard to get excited about the 2013 Audi S4, if you work in BMW's concept car division. "Hey! Nice car... now get back to work."

Google's openness is no ruse. It's well-documented that the company, for the most part, has an open sharing policy internally, so those working on one product likely know what the other products are doing. One can easily discover launch schedules and product cycles company-wide. Often, products depend on the other to release improvements to bring value to their own. Instead of a completely siloed organization where working on one project means that's all you know, the average Googler can know, with some small effort, what's next from most places. And this is a good thing in my view. For some incremental risk of leaks, you gain improved collaboration, expanded testing, additional rounds of feedback and reduced paranoia.

Living in the future can be good, especially when you get access to the newest phones, apps and Chromebooks, all in the name of testing. It can be fun to test new services, like Shopping Express, all in the name of being a good corporate citizen. And yes, it can also be challenging, especially, as you can imagine, if you're using two new things in combination, and can't figure out which team should get your filed bug - only that you know it should work better. So yes, we file the bugs so you don't have to see them. We also shield you from a good amount of user experience awkwardness, and in rare cases, can completely change the face of a product before it reaches your computer or smartphone.

By definition every technology company is by some extension working in the future. What's shipped is usually the most stable version of whatever build had to be cut that day, or the highest quality device that could be shipped to the retailer or in time for the scheduled launch event. The one that's not shipped has more features, costs less and is faster, or so they always say. But Google is a different beast, given its incredible ambition.

The company that was once easily defined as "the Mountain View search giant" is doing much more and thinking about ways to leverage technology to improve many facets of our existence. You could be measured by what you used to be, or who you are today, or you could set your sights further ahead, toward the realm of improbability. We call them moonshots. And that stretch goal is where the future is. That's the excitement. We may be experiencing the future every .1 upgrade at a time, or with every notification on Android that our apps need to be updated, but there's more to it, and being inside the Googleplex is a unique experience.

If you want to join us at Google, check out and send me an email.

Disclosure: I work for Google. That's what this post is about. Nobody reviewed this.