Ian Hickson: ‘Reflecting on 18 Years at Google’

Ian Hickson, who recently left Google after an 18-year stint:

The lack of trust in management is reflected by management no longer showing trust in the employees either, in the form of inane corporate policies. In 2004, Google’s founders famously told Wall Street “Google is not a conventional company. We do not intend to become one.” but that Google is no more.

Much of these problems with Google today stem from a lack of visionary leadership from Sundar Pichai, and his clear lack of interest in maintaining the cultural norms of early Google. A symptom of this is the spreading contingent of inept middle management. [...]

It’s definitely not too late to heal Google. It would require some shake-up at the top of the company, moving the centre of power from the CFO’s office back to someone with a clear long-term vision for how to use Google’s extensive resources to deliver value to users. I still believe there’s lots of mileage to be had from Google’s mission statement (“to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”). Someone who wanted to lead Google into the next twenty years, maximising the good to humanity and disregarding the short-term fluctuations in stock price, could channel the skills and passion of Google into truly great achievements.

I do think the clock is ticking, though. The deterioration of Google’s culture will eventually become irreversible, because the kinds of people whom you need to act as moral compass are the same kinds of people who don’t join an organisation without a moral compass.

This jibes with my perception of Google from the outside. Early Google did two things great:

  • They introduced a steady stream of groundbreaking new products and services that served their mission statement, with broad appeal to the public.
  • They ruthlessly fought against bloat and feature creep in the products they had already shipped.

Neither of those things has been true in recent years, and the responsibility clearly falls on Pichai.

Tuesday, 28 November 2023