5 months ago
Why Google Staff Doesn't Work
Sundar Pichai unveiled Simplicity Sprint at Google's latest all-hands conference.
To boost employee efficiency.
Not surprising. Few envisioned Google declaring a productivity drive.
Sunder Pichai's speech:
“There are real concerns that our productivity as a whole is not where it needs to be for the head count we have. Help me create a culture that is more mission-focused, more focused on our products, more customer focused. We should think about how we can minimize distractions and really raise the bar on both product excellence and productivity.”
The primary driver driving Google's efficiency push is:
Google's efficiency push follows 13% quarterly revenue increase. Last year in the same quarter, it was 62%.
Market newcomers may argue that the previous year's figure was fuelled by post-Covid reopening and growing consumer spending. Investors aren't convinced. A promising company like Google can't afford to drop so quickly.
Google’s quarterly revenue growth stood at 13%, against 62% in last year same quarter.
Google isn't alone. In my recent essay regarding 2025 programmers, I warned about the economic downturn's effects on FAAMG's workforce. Facebook had suspended hiring, and Microsoft had promised hefty bonuses for loyal staff.
In the same article, I predicted Google's troubles. Online advertising, especially the way Google and Facebook sell it using user data, is over.
FAAMG and 2nd rung IT companies could be the first to fall without Post-COVID revival and uncertain global geopolitics.
Google has hardly ever discussed effectiveness:
Amazon treats its employees like robots, even in software positions. It has significant turnover and a terrible reputation as a result. Because of this, it rarely loses money due to staff productivity.
Amazon trumps Google. In reality, it treats its employees poorly.
Google was the founding father of the modern-day open culture.
Larry and Sergey Google founded the IT industry's Open Culture. Silicon Valley called Google's internal democracy and transparency near anarchy. Management rarely slammed decisions on employees. Surveys and internal polls ensured everyone knew the company's direction and had a vote.
20% project allotment (weekly free time to build own project) was Google's open-secret innovation component.
After Larry and Sergey's exit in 2019, this is Google's first profitability hurdle. Only Google insiders can answer these questions.
Would Google's investors compel the company's management to adopt an Amazon-style culture where the developers are treated like circus performers?
If so, would Google follow suit?
If so, how does Google go about doing it?
Before discussing Google's likely plan, let's examine programming productivity.
What determines a programmer's productivity is simple:
How would we answer Google's questions?
As a programmer, I'm more concerned about Simplicity Sprint's aftermath than its economic catalysts.
Large organizations don't care much about quarterly and annual productivity metrics. They have 10-year product-launch plans. If something seems horrible today, it's likely due to someone's lousy judgment 5 years ago who is no longer in the blame game.
Deconstruct our main question.
How exactly do you change the culture of the firm so that productivity increases?
How can you accomplish that without affecting your capacity to profit? There are countless ways to increase output without decreasing profit.
How can you accomplish this with little to no effect on employee motivation? (While not all employers care about it, in this case we are discussing the father of the open company culture.)
How do you do it for a 10-developer IT firm that is losing money versus a 1,70,000-developer organization with a trillion-dollar valuation?
When implementing a large-scale organizational change, success must be carefully measured.
The fastest way to do something is to do it right, no matter how long it takes.
You require clearly-defined group/team/role segregation and solid pass/fail matrices to:
You can give performers rewards.
Ones that are average can be inspired to improve
Underachievers may receive assistance or, in the worst-case scenario, rehabilitation
As a 20-year programmer, I associate productivity with greatness.
Doing something well, no matter how long it takes, is the fastest way to do it.
Let's discuss a programmer's productivity.
Why productivity is a strange term in programming:
Productivity is work per unit of time.
Money=time This is an economic proverb. More hours worked, more pay. Longer projects cost more.
As a buyer, you desire a quick supply. As a business owner, you want employees who perform at full capacity, creating more products to transport and boosting your profits.
All economic matrices encourage production because of our obsession with it. Productivity is the only organic way a nation may increase its GDP.
Time is money — is not just a proverb, but an economical fact.
Applying the same productivity theory to programming gets problematic. An automating computer. Its capacity depends on the software its master writes.
Today, a sophisticated program can process a billion records in a few hours. Creating one takes a competent coder and the necessary infrastructure. Learning, designing, coding, testing, and iterations take time.
Programming productivity isn't linear, unlike manufacturing and maintenance.
Average programmers produce code every day yet miss deadlines. Expert programmers go days without coding. End of sprint, they often surprise themselves by delivering fully working solutions.
Reversing the programming duties has no effect. Experts aren't needed for productivity.
These patterns remind me of an XKCD comic.
Programming productivity depends on two factors:
The capacity of the programmer and his or her command of the principles of computer science
His or her productive bursts, how often they occur, and how long they last as they engineer the answer
At some point, productivity measurement becomes Schrödinger’s cat.
Product companies measure productivity using use cases, classes, functions, or LOCs (lines of code). In days of data-rich source control systems, programmers' merge requests and/or commits are the most preferred yardstick. Companies assess productivity by tickets closed.
Every organization eventually has trouble measuring productivity. Finer measurements create more chaos. Every measure compares apples to oranges (or worse, apples with aircraft.) On top of the measuring overhead, the endeavor causes tremendous and unnecessary stress on teams, lowering their productivity and defeating its purpose.
Macro productivity measurements make sense. Amazon's factory-era management has done it, but at great cost.
Google can pull it off if it wants to.
What Google meant in reality when it said that employee productivity has decreased:
When Google considers its employees unproductive, it doesn't mean they don't complete enough work in the allotted period.
They can't multiply their work's influence over time.
Programmers who produce excellent modules or products are unsure on how to use them.
The best data scientists are unable to add the proper parameters in their models.
Despite having a great product backlog, managers struggle to recruit resources with the necessary skills.
Product designers who frequently develop and A/B test newer designs are unaware of why measures are inaccurate or whether they have already reached the saturation point.
Most ignorant: All of the aforementioned positions are aware of what to do with their deliverables, but neither their supervisors nor Google itself have given them sufficient authority.
So, Google employees aren't productive.
How to fix it?
Business analysis: White suits introducing novel items can interact with customers from all regions. Track analytics events proactively, especially the infrequent ones.
SOLID, DRY, TEST, and AUTOMATION: Do less + reuse. Use boilerplate code creation. If something already exists, don't implement it yourself.
Build features-building capabilities: N features are created by average programmers in N hours. An endless number of features can be built by average programmers thanks to the fact that expert programmers can produce 1 capability in N hours.
Work on projects that will have a positive impact: Use the same algorithm to search for images on YouTube rather than the Mars surface.
Avoid tasks that can only be measured in terms of time linearity at all costs (if a task can be completed in N minutes, then M copies of the same task would cost M*N minutes).
Software development isn't linear. Why should the makers be measured?
Notation for The Big O
I'm discussing a new way to quantify programmer productivity. (It applies to other professions, but that's another subject)
The Big O notation expresses the paradigm (the algorithmic performance concept programmers rot to ace their Google interview)
Google (or any large corporation) can do this.
Sort organizational roles into categories and specify their impact vs. time objectives. A CXO role's time vs. effect function, for instance, has a complexity of O(log N), meaning that if a CEO raises his or her work time by 8x, the result only increases by 3x.
Plot the influence of each employee over time using the X and Y axes, respectively.
Add a multiplier for Y-axis values to the productivity equation to make business objectives matter. (Example values: Support = 5, Utility = 7, and Innovation = 10).
Compare employee scores in comparable categories (developers vs. devs, CXOs vs. CXOs, etc.) and reward or help employees based on whether they are ahead of or behind the pack.
After measuring every employee's inventiveness, it's straightforward to help underachievers and praise achievers.
Example of a Big(O) Category:
If I ran Google (God forbid, its worst days are far off), here's how I'd classify it. You can categorize Google employees whichever you choose.
The Google interview truth:
O(1) < O(log n) < O(n) < O(n log n) < O(n^x) where all logarithmic bases are < n.
O(1): Customer service workers' hours have no impact on firm profitability or customer pleasure.
CXOs Most of their time is spent on travel, strategic meetings, parties, and/or meetings with minimal floor-level influence. They're good at launching new products but bad at pivoting without disaster. Their directions are being followed.
Devops, UX designers, testers Agile projects revolve around deployment. DevOps controls the levers. Their automation secures results in subsequent cycles.
UX/UI Designers must still prototype UI elements despite improved design tools.
All test cases are proportional to use cases/functional units, hence testers' work is O(N).
Architects Their effort improves code quality. Their right/wrong interference affects product quality and rollout decisions even after the design is set.
Core Developers Only core developers can write code and own requirements. When people understand and own their labor, the output improves dramatically. A single character error can spread undetected throughout the SDLC and cost millions.
Core devs introduce/eliminate 1000x bugs, refactoring attempts, and regression. Following our earlier hypothesis.
The fastest way to do something is to do it right, no matter how long it takes.
Google is at the liberal extreme of the employee-handling spectrum
Microsoft faced an existential crisis after 2000. It didn't choose Amazon's data-driven people management to revitalize itself.
Instead, it entrusted developers. It welcomed emerging technologies and opened up to open source, something it previously opposed.
Google is too lax in its employee-handling practices. With that foundation, it can only follow Amazon, no matter how carefully.
Any attempt to redefine people's measurements will affect the organization emotionally.
The more Google compares apples to apples, the higher its chances for future rebirth.