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.


Google Plus after a week – at best, a “may be”

I am certainly not one of the folks who jump in with both feet at every new technology that shows up on the radar. I like to stay back and watch others play with a little, read their reviews and then slowly dip my toes to see if it works for me.  I was totally planning to take the same approach with Google Plus. And that is when Dennis Howlett told me he thinks it is pretty cool, and that I should try it. I take Dennis seriously all the time, and decided to give it a try. I also got a second invite from my id to do some sandbox work without annoying my real friends.

First problem was to get signed in. This thing wouldn’t let me in unless someone invited me. And Alex Williams was kind enough to send me one. Signing in was not a big issue at all – I clicked on a few buttons and filled in my name etc and I was ready to go.

First up – Google wanted me to share Picassa albums. If I said no – google won’t let me sign up. Not a good thing in my opinion, but personally not a big deal since I use Kodak Gallery for my photos.  Lets just say the first step left a bad taste in my mouth. Of course you can limit access to your photos by playing with security settings – but why bother if I just didnt want to share my albums to begin with?

It looks to me that I can follow any one without their consent by adding them to my circle – like twitter, and unlike facebook.  Circles are not difficult to get – kind of similar to groups in facebook, or lists in twitter. Unlike twitter – no one else will know if I put you in the “dumb morons” circle.

Google plus privacy settings are going through what facebook settings went through in the past. It is straight forward to limit who can see your posts,  but kind of convoluted to prevent further sharing by people in your circle.

If you are a user of other services from google like mail or calendar, all those things are easily accessible. So that is a definite plus.

Facebook is obviously watching Google plus carefully – they have also announced skype group chats including video.  In a way – Facebook with 750 million users can probably outsmart google plus even if they just ape every cool thing google plus does. At the end, google plus is the one who has to catch up – and facebook which has a huge number of users across the globe, should be able to make use of its strong incumbent status to advantage.

For a company whose name is synonymous with search, google does not allow users to search in google plus. Isn’t that kind of backwards? It is like playbook not allowing you to use calendar and email without tethering a blackberry to it. Is that some kind of new thinking ? it could also simply be me not seeing how to use search in the limited time I test drove this.

Of course you can email people with Gmail – but why wouldn’t this allow me to send a message directly to one person in my circle? Is that kind of hard to build? Of course you can create a post and filter it to make sure only one person sees it. But that is not good design, is it?

Google had wave and buzz both of which had several geeks interested. Some companies even went so far as to build prototypes to integrate with it. Well, we know what happened – neither captured popular attention. Wave is officially dead too. So with this history, Google has a lot of baggage to shed before general public uses Google plus. This was also one of the reasons I shied away from this before Dennis nudged me to try. Google is not apple – it does not have the cool factor to pull off something just by brand name.

I saw something on twitter that google plus might soon get an IPhone and IPad app. In 2011 July, why would they go to pre-beta or whatever it is called without a mobile app?

There are no third party hello world apps there – no games, no nothing. I don’t miss it – but knowing how many people are in facebook strictly because of farmville, it is kind of hard for me to imagine there is nothing in Google plus to match. Or is it a way to tell the world “we are so cool that we don’t need to do everything facebook does?”. Why wouldn’t Google bring in google apps in here right upfront?Especially if they have enterprise ambitions.

I could see a way to get hotmail and yahoo contacts to Google plus, I couldn’t see a way to download from facebook. I am pretty sure I could get twitter feeds to integrate with Buzz. So why not with google plus? Or is it hidden somewhere? That surprised me a lot.

I did not particularly like sparks – I could not find a way of using what I have already set up on google reader via sparks. Why would I do it in two places? Not cool.

Hangouts is a pretty neat idea – but then facebook will reproduce it via skype integration, so no added edge there.

Bottom line : What is the point of a pre-beta when you can guess 9 out of 10 people will provide the feedback that all these things are expected as a minimum?

Probably because it is in trial version – there is no nuisance from advertisements. I guess that would change. As long as it doesn’t get in my face, I can live with it. However, I have an uneasy feeling about google keeping an eye on who I am friends with 🙂

I saw some well respected analyst friends of mine terming Google plus as “disruptive” and “enterprise class”.  Most of the reasoning seem to be along the lines of how pundits told us how Wave  will change how business processes work in future . After all I have described above, I find it hard to agree .  Well, if they mean it as a future dream – sure, that is possible. At the moment, it is not enterprise worthy in my opinion. Forget “facebook for enterprise” for now – it needs to mature a lot more. And for long term viability in enterprise – facebook equivalency is just tablestakes. If facebook for enterprise is the vision – i would give facebook the most chance of making it, and not google plus.  Duh !

There is however one potential use case where Google can make a difference – as the one place that unifies all kinds of information an enterprise user needs, on the cloud, with appropriate security settings. It is not easy to pull off – but if they do, they can probably make a killing.  Well, either that or some one else will integrate everything including Google Plus. If Google is smart – no reason to think other wise – they would not let this opportunity pass by.

Last thought – just like “old generation” enterprisey companies find it hard to understand the business model of  “new generation” consumery companies , I think the new guys have the same problem in reverse too.

As for me – at the moment, I am going to park Google plus. I will test drive again after some time to see if  something has changed. But meanwhile, I will be following its progress from what rest of the world says.