Googler’s Screed


Or perhaps I should say Xoogler's screed instead , now that he got fired .

Strangely, the first thing that hit me was the word "screed" since the last time I heard the word was couple of decades ago in engineering college . Perhaps "manifesto" associates itself with "communism" and hence "screed" seemed to be the more appropriate word.

I went through a series of emotions as I read about the screed . It started with anger, and that is the only reason I did not start typing my views on day 1. I needed time to process the information . And doing that increased my respect for journalists who had to break the news without much time to look at it at depth , as well as Sundar Pichai who had to take a decision quickly on what to do with the guy who wrote the document . I am glad I took the time before posting a rant – it was quite educational to read many different opinions and talk to many fellow engineers, male and female .

One thing is abundantly clear – Google was put in a no-win situation. If they didn't fire the guy, they would get painted as anti-women . If they fired the guy – they will be accused of shutting down diversity of thought.

There were a few points in the debate on both sides that I thought were rather weak – like Damore's first amendment rights , and whether he should have written such a document during work hours. Google is not a government entity and first amendment should not be a big consideration in letter or spirit in this context . The guy attended a google class on diversity and wrote it in response . If google offered the class during work hours , I can't blame him for writing a response during work hours and circulating it .

I am an engineer myself and hire engineers to work with me – and it was extremely painful to read the document and realize it was a fellow engineer who wrote it . It just felt like someone did the profession a big injustice – and perhaps it's an over reaction . In any case – I would not hire a person as an engineer in my team if I suspect a significant lack of empathy . Not going to belabor the point – this is a brilliant take on it and you should read it .

The tone of the manifesto is quantitative and dispassionate from what I could interpret . When criticizing it, however, there seems to be a penchant in media to refer to it as "quasi-professional" and "pseudo-scientific" and so on . Even though the opposing arguments looked strong to me , trying to attack the tone of the writer as opposed to his central ideas and facts(?) diminished its effectiveness.

While I can't say I have a first hand understanding of what it is like to be a woman in tech – I can extrapolate from what I went through as an immigrant and have no doubts how difficult it must be . I also grew up in a family of strong women in India who fought all odds to thrive in a male dominated society . I was not in the minority growing up in India – and my appreciation for its value only happened after I moved to USA in my early twenties .

When I first came to this country, I faced a fair bit of Discrimination as an Indian programmer in the midst of mostly white male programmers – insults to my intelligence , the food I ate , the music I liked , my accent and so on were common place. I also had some very kind managers and friends and co-workers who considered me as one of them and helped me cope . For the most part, I don't feel it anymore – I developed a thick skin over time and larger number of Indians are there in the workforce now for me to feel alone.

Damore is absolutely entitled to his opinions like the rest of us – we live in a free country. But as an adult, he should also know that actions have consequences.

I think where he lost the plot of having a good debate – instead of the storm he caused – was in quoting studies and stating that all of it applied only to populations and not individuals , but then going on to make recommendations that don't follow that thread of logic . That gave me the impression that he was not arriving at a conclusion by building an argument ground up, but just finding a way to substantiate what he always believed . Irrespective of the content , that is not the hallmark of a good engineer .

He does state that he is supportive of an inclusive workforce and agrees that sexism exists. Unfortunately the recommendations are either too vague , or not backed by consistent logic. It came across like "Current diversity program sucks, so let's get rid of it. No diversity program is better than a partly effective one". Huh ?

The charitable side of me wants to believe it was mostly ignorance and lack of skill that caused him to write it the way he did , as opposed to totally evil intentions . In any case – he earned the backlash fair and square in my opinion .

To begin with, Google had a lousy episode recently of telling DOJ that 100K USD is too much money to spend on compiling payroll information for gender equality. Now if they also did not fire the guy who wrote the awful memo – it would have been an even bigger nightmare.

I do grant one thing Damore raised . If you hold conservative views in Silicon Valley, it's rare that your views will resonate in the work place, and there is a good chance you will be out-shouted . Unless of course you are someone like Peter Thiel . It's an extremely left leaning place and the lack of inclusion is not just about gender, it's about diversity of thought too .

One thing google needs more than anything to keep its leadership in the market is retaining and attracting top talent . They cannot afford to risk a bunch of their talent walking away if they think google doesn't support their ideology . There is no non-compete in CA and many of these engineers are already rich and will find multiple jobs quickly with google on their CV . Even if no one walked out of the door per se , which development manager would choose to have Damore in their team after his views became public ?

If forced to choose between the support for gender diversity and thought diversity – I firmly think gender diversity should win every time . Ideologies evolve with time and mistakes can be corrected relatively quickly , but gender doesn't follow that path. Solve the gender diversity and it will be fair game to have absolute focus on thought diversity .

In my view, Sundar Pichai absolutely did the right thing by firing the guy – but google leadership , HR and PR departments should get a B- for how it was handled . As a friend mentioned on Facebook – the only thing worse than scheduling the all hands was canceling it .

The net goodness out of this episode is that it sparked debate yet again on the importance of diversity . The sad part is that without such incidents, it doesn't get the attention it deserves.

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6 thoughts on “Googler’s Screed

  1. Very well written blog but he has carefully walking on a rope while expressing his point of view. As Vijay mentioned, democracy lives only if we encourage the individual’s to express their opinion. But also careful and mindful thoughts would resonate well with the people when discussing about an important topic. If “*oogle” author spin’d the article in positive way, this could have created an good opportunity for the mass attention for good. May be not. As Vijay mentioned, controversy gets more attention and in this case, it brought out an issue that need to be addressed. Thanks to Vijay for his openness about the cultural challenges he has faced when he came here as an immigrant and also appreciation for all the support he got from the good ones.

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  2. “Without data you are only a person with an opinion. Except when it to comes gender debates.” Here the act of citing factual gender data will get you termed a bigot , sexist , politically radioactive and in certain companies like Google can get you fired from your job. Startlingly when it comes to gender issues the most rational technical leaders , engineers and scientists behave with an almost primal faith that women are some how oppressed and need all the positive discrimination and speaking about mens issues is pure evil. All data , analytics , facts and scientific studies immediately go out of the window.
    While pundits striving to be politically correct and self styled leftists write gigabytes how there is not equal pay in STEM area for women , only mere bytes are allocated to how far less men are graduating from college , live significantly shorter lives , far more committing suicide at workplace and at home and far more do jobs that entail significantly more risk. The left normally accuses the right of “intolerance”. We saw a demonstration of the intolerance of the left at California campuses after Trump won convincingly. Damore did not strip his underwear and do a slut walk on campus,and neither did he carry a stained mattress on his shoulders all across the campus.
    The “mistake” that Damore chose to make was to highlight all these aspects in a very objective fact and evidence based memo.He like a true academician cited numerous peer reviewed scientific studies to back his facts , but apparently that did not matter for Google. I am not sure what made Damore do it now ? Maybe it was the severe drubbing that the left got in the elections and maybe that there is a right wing administration in Washington but that beyond the point now.
    Instead of pondering on what Damore wrote and how Google could help the problem that men face, they did what the liberal left mafia wanted them to do. Fire Damore. This reaction is not the first of its kind. The death sentence of Socrates was the legal consequence of asking politico-philosophic questions of his students, from which resulted the two accusations of moral corruption and of impiety. Thanks to civilization now we only resort to job firing.
    I am not too bothered with him getting a job but am extremely happy with the public fallout that resulted. If Travis Kalanick was fired for not toeing the left line why not Sundar Pichai for being extremely left leaning. If Kalanick was running a company unfriendly to women Sundar has been shown to do the same with men.Google has been rightly dismounted from the ethical high chair they perched themselves on and will now and forever will be branded a radical left liberal watering hole. It would do them good to have a psychometric tests on interviewing candidates to get their thoughts on gender inclinations before hiring them.

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  3. Vijay, really good post. Thank you for taking the time to process and share your perspectives. People (including me!) listen to what you have to say and I am grateful that you are using the platform you have cultivating to talk with other engineers and business people about this topic. Equity in the workplace is a topic rife with emotion. One side feels threatened by changes in perspective to a system in which he has thrived. The other side struggles with the very real consequences of a system designed for someone else, resulting in no changes to people strategies and processes such as pay, promotion, development and treatment. I too have taken time to reflect on this who thing – a situation that is part of a broader discussion and need for change – one the brings us all along, engages all of us, instead of continuing to alienate, to blame, and to shame. This sentiment was partiularly effective to me about the xoogler’s journey: “…he was not arriving at a conclusion by building an argument ground up, but just finding a way to substantiate what he always believed.” My best, Patti

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