Classic rant by Google engineer rips apart Google + and describes Jeff Bezos as a micromanager

Yegge

I’ve never met Steve Yegge. But after reading the Google engineer’s 4,771-word rant — in which he slashes everything from Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos’ management style to the failures of Google +  – I’d certainly like to.

I just spent a good 40 minutes digesting the post, and I want to go back and read it again. It is one of the best summaries I’ve read of what’s going on in the tech industry right now, even though that wasn’t the original intent of the post.

Yegge, a University of Washington computer science grad who is based in Kirkland and previously worked at Amazon.com, doesn’t hold back in the rant which was initially written for internal consumption at Google.

I’d strongly encourage you to read the post.

But to give you a taste for what’s in store, here are some of my favorite excerpts:

On Amazon’s cutthroat culture:

Amazon’s recruiting process is fundamentally flawed by having teams hire for themselves, so their hiring bar is incredibly inconsistent across teams, despite various efforts they’ve made to level it out. And their operations are a mess; they don’t really have SREs and they make engineers pretty much do everything, which leaves almost no time for coding – though again this varies by group, so it’s luck of the draw. They don’t give a single shit about charity or helping the needy or community contributions or anything like that. Never comes up there, except maybe to laugh about it. Their facilities are dirt-smeared cube farms without a dime spent on decor or common meeting areas. Their pay and benefits suck, although much less so lately due to local competition from Google and Facebook. But they don’t have any of our perks or extras — they just try to match the offer-letter numbers, and that’s the end of it. Their code base is a disaster, with no engineering standards whatsoever except what individual teams choose to put in place.

On Jeff Bezos style as a micromanager:

“Bezos is super smart; don’t get me wrong. He just makes ordinary control freaks look like stoned hippies.”

On why Google doesn’t “get” platforms:

That one last thing that Google doesn’t do well is Platforms. We don’t understand platforms. We don’t “get” platforms. Some of you do, but you are the minority. This has become painfully clear to me over the past six years. I was kind of hoping that competitive pressure from Microsoft and Amazon and more recently Facebook would make us wake up collectively and start doing universal services. Not in some sort of ad-hoc, half-assed way, but in more or less the same way Amazon did it: all at once, for real, no cheating, and treating it as our top priority from now on.

On Google +:

Google+ is a knee-jerk reaction, a study in short-term thinking, predicated on the incorrect notion that Facebook is successful because they built a great product. But that’s not why they are successful. Facebook is successful because they built an entire constellation of products by allowing other people to do the work. So Facebook is different for everyone. Some people spend all their time on Mafia Wars. Some spend all their time on Farmville. There are hundreds or maybe thousands of different high-quality time sinks available, so there’s something there for everyone.

The reaction to the piece has been intense and supportive, and Yegge wrote in a follow-up that there’s been no attempt by Google PR to censor the comments.

“I love working at Google, and I especially love the fact that I’m comfortable posting something as inflammatory as my post may have been,” he writes. “The company is super open internally, and as I said several times in my post, they really try hard to do everything right. That includes being open to strongly differing opinions, and that has certainly not been true at every company I’ve worked at.”

That’s pretty amazing considering a Microsoft worker lost his job last month for posting some rather benign comments — at least compared to Yegge’s remarks — about Windows Phone 7 on Twitter.

  • http://www.samgrossberg.com Sam Grossberg

    My favorite quote: 

    “7) Thank you; have a nice day!

    Ha, ha! You 150-odd ex-Amazon folks here will of course realize immediately that #7 was a little joke I threw in, because Bezos most definitely does not give a shit about your day.”

    • johnhcook

      He’s obviously not going back to work at Amazon anytime soon. We’ve certainly heard about the hard-charging pace at Amazon, but is it really this bad?

      • http://www.samgrossberg.com Sam Grossberg

        Yeah I was kind of wondering the same thing. I’ve heard horror stories about pagers, but is it really as terrible a place as he makes it sound? Also I imagine it has changed a LOT in the last 6 years. Would be curious to hear a response to this from current Amazonians.

      • Guest

        John, Steve left the company years ago. You’re a tech reporter. Would you trust a review of anything tech that’s years out of date?

      • Guest

        Amazon has creeped me out since my friend used to work there.

        He was a rising star. He got great reviews until one day he got a terrible one. It didn’t say anything about his work. It just said he was a “bad culture fit.” He is the nicest guy in the world. He liked everyone and they liked him. He talked to his manager and his manager’s manager. They gave him the run around and sent him to HR. The HR person told him to go talk to his manager. He was devistated and confused. He knew people with bad reviews didn’t last long. So he found a job somewhere else.

        On his last day a director told him off the record what happened. Somehow Bezos found out he had been in a union. He went on a tirade and yelled at a bunch of managers. He said it was their job to keep unions out of amazon. My friend told the director he had a union construction job to pay his way through college. But that was several years ago. The director said he knew the facts, but once Bezos laid down the law nothing could be done about it.

        What’s more pathetic? an uninformed CEO who blackballs a star employee? or the managers who didn’t have the huevos to defend my friend?

        • Guest

          A uniformed CEO who blackballs a star employee.

          I’d never work for Amazon. Never.

          • Guest

            Wow. Do you believe everything anonymous users post on the Internet?

      • Guest

        Very curious about the culture over at Amazon.

        I get a call from a recruiter over there about once a month however the stories I heard about Amazon just turn me off. Wish that wasn’t the case since they do some pretty awesome stuff over there…

  • Anonymous

    My time at Amazon overlapped a bit with Steve’s and while I share some of his views, I’d like to add some detail.

    1. Jeff as micromanager. Anyone who has spent any time at Amazon has probably been subjected to a “Jeff says” mandate on some (usually smallish) project which probably would have escaped the attention of most CEOs. That being said, it is this same fanatical attention to detail for which many people are now praising Steve Jobs.

    2. Amazon’s hiring policy. I have a lot of issues with the way Amazon recruits and hires but they aren’t the same ones that Steve mentions. In particular, he takes exception with the highly decentralized hiring process but *everything* at Amazon is highly decentralized. Culture and quality of work life can vary dramatically from team to team even within the same larger group. Every team has essentially complete autonomy to build and maintain their systems and if they stumble (e.g. by maintaining a low hiring standard) then their system will simply be replaced by another (internal) one.P.S. Steve is a uniquely talented guy. If you enjoyed this post from Steve you really should go read some of his other stuff (http://steve-yegge.blogspot.com/). His blog contains a mix of highly technical posts, general technology rants and quite good fiction.

  • Anonymous

    I loved Steve’s post (he has many great ones, if you’re not familiar with him: http://steve-yegge.blogspot.com/ ).  The only part I take issue with is the fact that Facebook is successful because of their platform.  I really think that’s overstating the case.  Facebook is product-first, platform second.  Timeline, the focus of F8, is product-first, platform second. 

    They were hugely successful before they even had a platform, and they’ve killed many platform companies in the interest of the product (ex. killing boxes on profiles, the “apps” tab, etc).  I’m not saying platform isn’t important, and I’d argue a natural evolution of a successful product in order to get it to the next level of success.  But just as Apple did with the iPhone, platform is not a blanket requirement for a v1 feature.

  • Guest

    Most big tech CEOs are known as micromanagers. Bill Gates and the late Mr. Steve Jobs were both known to take the reins of what most engineers would consider to be small components. Is demonstrating ownership of one’s company really such a bad thing? Google might do better with a top-down visionary at the helm.

  • Guest

    Epic rant. But the company was talking up 40M G+ users in the earnings call tonight after they crushed earnings. Looks like Google will be next to pass MS in market cap.

  • Guest

    It’s hard to argue with the results that control freaks at Google and Amazon have had versus companies like MS, for example, where the CEO let’s everyone do their own thing.

  • Avatar Roku

    The guy lost his job at Microsoft because he commented on and reviewed an unannounced product from Nokia, not Microsoft. The guy wasn’t revealing secrets from Microsoft, he was revealing secrets from Nokia. Considering Microsoft has a multi-billion dollar deal in place, they did the right thing to fire him. If I was an employee at Nokia I would be really pissed if Microsoft hadn’t fired him.

    Unless this Google employee was discussing unreleased products from Google or it’s partners I don’t see the correlation to what happened to the Microsoft employee.

    • Anonymous

      There is no correlation. Not mention that there was a prior “tweeting” offense by that same employee. But the truth doesn’t make for a good story for tech bloggers…

    • Anonymous

      There is no correlation. Not mention that there was a prior “tweeting” offense by that same employee. But the truth doesn’t make for a good story for tech bloggers…

  • Avatar Roku

    The guy lost his job at Microsoft because he commented on and reviewed an unannounced product from Nokia, not Microsoft. The guy wasn’t revealing secrets from Microsoft, he was revealing secrets from Nokia. Considering Microsoft has a multi-billion dollar deal in place, they did the right thing to fire him. If I was an employee at Nokia I would be really pissed if Microsoft hadn’t fired him.

    Unless this Google employee was discussing unreleased products from Google or it’s partners I don’t see the correlation to what happened to the Microsoft employee.

  • Guest

    Oh, I can certainly attest to Bezos as a micromanager. Rewind back to 2003 when I joined, sure that was a long time ago, but I doubt Bezos’ style has changed.

    Bezos had taken a deep interest in my team’s project for some reason. The project was a minor bit piece in Amazon at the time, and even though I hate to admit it, absolutely not worth the time of the CEO. It was an internal system which would go on to have no effect on the company whatsoever.

    Anyway, we would have these bizarre meetings which, after reading Yegge’s post, actually make a bit more sense now than they did 8 years ago. Jeff was fanatical about changing the names of pieces of our internal, Amazon only API. I mean, ridiculous little minute details. Like, instead of calling something “getHistoryList” he would fight to call it “getHistoryItems” or some other such nonsense. I never understood why he cared so much, but I suppose this was right after his desire to turn everything into a service which can be exposed outside of the company.

    Now, if you knew what this service was, you’d know it wouldn’t ever make it outside of Amazon. It was completely tied to Amazon culture, internals, and team structure.

    But, Jeff was interested, so we had to have meetings in Jeff’s little side office on the 6th floor of the Pac Med building.

    One afternoon, we were supposed to have a meeting with Jeff at 4:00pm. At 3:58pm, his PA informed us the meeting would be moved to 7:30pm. That night. I lived a long distance from the office and relied on train service, so this meant a 1 1/2 hour bus ride after the hour meeting. Fun. So, two of us stayed to appease Jeff and my wife cheerfully agreed to drive in to pick me up around 8:30pm instead of me having to take the winding, long bus route.

    Fast forward, it’s 8:30pm. My wife calls my office and asks if I’m ready to come down. Well, umm, the meeting still hasn’t started, we’re sitting here waiting for Jeff. Around 8:45pm, we head in. We had sent Jeff materials the week prior for him to review. We entered the room, Jeff cheerfully greeted us, and then we watched, slack-jawed, for 30 minutes as Jeff read through the materials without saying a word to either of us.

    It’s was an odd feeling to sit there and watch that clock hand slowly move. As each minute of silence went on, it became harder and harder to even think about saying a word. The silence was just this heavy thing in the room. Bizarre.

    Finally, after about 30 minutes of reading, he looked up and said, “This isn’t what I’m looking for.” I was prepared for that, rarely does something like this work out perfectly on the first try. I asked for some direction, what he liked/didn’t like. He said, “I’m not sure what I’m looking for, but I’ll know when I see it. Go and iterate on these ideas for a week and come back next week and we’ll review this again.” That was it, his sum total of comments.

    Next week’s meeting was roughly the same. Every meeting with Jeff was like that. He was always wanting to be involved, wanting to micromanage, but clearly didn’t have the bandwidth to be involved at the level that his desire would require.

    Some how, I don’t know how, we eventually shipped this service that no one ever used. I quickly and quietly moved through another two groups far away from Bezos (which also never shipped anything of substance) and a few years later left the company.

  • Guest

    Oh, I can certainly attest to Bezos as a micromanager. Rewind back to 2003 when I joined, sure that was a long time ago, but I doubt Bezos’ style has changed.

    Bezos had taken a deep interest in my team’s project for some reason. The project was a minor bit piece in Amazon at the time, and even though I hate to admit it, absolutely not worth the time of the CEO. It was an internal system which would go on to have no effect on the company whatsoever.

    Anyway, we would have these bizarre meetings which, after reading Yegge’s post, actually make a bit more sense now than they did 8 years ago. Jeff was fanatical about changing the names of pieces of our internal, Amazon only API. I mean, ridiculous little minute details. Like, instead of calling something “getHistoryList” he would fight to call it “getHistoryItems” or some other such nonsense. I never understood why he cared so much, but I suppose this was right after his desire to turn everything into a service which can be exposed outside of the company.

    Now, if you knew what this service was, you’d know it wouldn’t ever make it outside of Amazon. It was completely tied to Amazon culture, internals, and team structure.

    But, Jeff was interested, so we had to have meetings in Jeff’s little side office on the 6th floor of the Pac Med building.

    One afternoon, we were supposed to have a meeting with Jeff at 4:00pm. At 3:58pm, his PA informed us the meeting would be moved to 7:30pm. That night. I lived a long distance from the office and relied on train service, so this meant a 1 1/2 hour bus ride after the hour meeting. Fun. So, two of us stayed to appease Jeff and my wife cheerfully agreed to drive in to pick me up around 8:30pm instead of me having to take the winding, long bus route.

    Fast forward, it’s 8:30pm. My wife calls my office and asks if I’m ready to come down. Well, umm, the meeting still hasn’t started, we’re sitting here waiting for Jeff. Around 8:45pm, we head in. We had sent Jeff materials the week prior for him to review. We entered the room, Jeff cheerfully greeted us, and then we watched, slack-jawed, for 30 minutes as Jeff read through the materials without saying a word to either of us.

    It’s was an odd feeling to sit there and watch that clock hand slowly move. As each minute of silence went on, it became harder and harder to even think about saying a word. The silence was just this heavy thing in the room. Bizarre.

    Finally, after about 30 minutes of reading, he looked up and said, “This isn’t what I’m looking for.” I was prepared for that, rarely does something like this work out perfectly on the first try. I asked for some direction, what he liked/didn’t like. He said, “I’m not sure what I’m looking for, but I’ll know when I see it. Go and iterate on these ideas for a week and come back next week and we’ll review this again.” That was it, his sum total of comments.

    Next week’s meeting was roughly the same. Every meeting with Jeff was like that. He was always wanting to be involved, wanting to micromanage, but clearly didn’t have the bandwidth to be involved at the level that his desire would require.

    Some how, I don’t know how, we eventually shipped this service that no one ever used. I quickly and quietly moved through another two groups far away from Bezos (which also never shipped anything of substance) and a few years later left the company.

  • http://ClaussConcept.com Jason Gerard Clauss

    Google’s other big problem (maybe related) is their utter inability to create a seamless experience across all of their products. Google+ is four months old at least and there’s no sign of YouTube integration. YouTube’s broken comment system, and the lame non-banter that goes with it, has been one of its Achilles heels (there are many) for a long time. YouTube integration would have been the killer app for Plus. Instead they spend their money and time making G+ games so fat suburban housewives can pretend they own a farm.

    • Guest

      Yes. They integrated Picasa for photo sharing, but YouTube would be a killer app for Gooplus.

  • anonymous

    I feel like someone should come in with a little fresher experience…After 5 years of Amazon I can tell you that the “boiler room” teams are pretty harsh to work in.  I’m talking about groups involved in catalog, payments, shopping cart and that sort of thing.  I’m talking about millions of service requests… per second!  The load is always growing, the features are always growing, but no old interfaces or features can be deprecated. (There is a huge dearth of great managers with backbones.)  These teams usually have some sort of first-line-of-defense administrators to handle frozen computers and corrupted data.  But the developer’s pager still goes off in the middle of the night at least once a week.  And this is not conducive to getting work done, I agree.  Despite my best efforts and no downtime, I was reprimanded consistently by managers who had no sense of balance (or humor).I noticed a trend of Amazon hiring unsuspecting young developers, often Indian for the record, to do these jobs.  If you are smart, you do your year or so and move to one of the more controlled groups — maybe search or internal caching.  You really have to know your away around to the good managers which were few and far between.  After all, these teams are also growing constantly.As a side note, I believe this is why Amazon was so quick to invent AWS.  And why you don’t see it being imitated.  Amazon truly has more experience than anyone in large scale computing.  Sure companies like Google must handle more search requests, but I believe Google is more single-purpose in nature, whereas Amazon has bits of every imaginable service.As for Bezos, I’m not saying I knew him well, but I sat in 3 or 4 meetings with him, often immediately next to him.  Perhaps others knew better than to take that seat?  But I kid.  He seemed reasonable as long ago as 4 years.  He would debate numbers, estimates and the like.  He was very matter of fact, but not rude.  He wasn’t interested in programming interfaces or the like.  It is true that he used 30 minutes to read the docs.  I felt it was reasonable.  I had no late night meetings with him.Now managers in general at Amazon… here is my biggest beef.  There is a culture there of working on a project without the help of the ultimate decision maker, whatever level she may be.  So if the ultimate decision lies with Bezos, then your VP, directors, and managers will flog all the “individual contributors” in every direction.  Barking is the main definition of managing at Amazon.  There is no information or decision making going “up” the org chart at all.  The only consolation is that your VP will also be as frantic and confused.  At each level, there is no time to meet employees downward.  Now this is going on in a culture were your review is dependent on the amount of code you write as a developer.  Instead you run around for two months speculating, meeting with other services, doing pointless analysis or whatever else meets the panic of the day.  Then, when the decision maker shows up, she ignores the data, “goes with her gut” and you redo it all.  No manager seems to notice this cycle and attempt to break it.P.S.  Amazon’s internal “services” are, by no means whatsoever, clean and a joy to use.  Their versioning system is hopelessly complex.  I think Yegge talked out of his ass, made up lots of straw men and overly praised a system that doesn’t work well.  I suppose he did this to smooth talk his Google cowokers to feel superior and do what he wants.  I dunno.

  • http://www.startupbusinessloans.com/research/ Sophia Anne Walker

    Wow. Cutthroat business practices? Impressive and scary at the same time. Survival of the fittest and you are not allowed to get a bad review or else you get booted? Hilarious!

  • Anton van der Westhuizen

    Seriously, I wish you people will stop with your first world problems. I get it, working for a control freak boss is a pain, but you have a job. I work for Amazon in Cape Town South Africa and believe me, it’s the best place I have ever worked. I can’t really speak for all the Amazon sites around the world though. There are some valid points too. Hiring does need work, teams do differentiate way too much, and there are a few people who move up the ranks through pure sucking up, while hard workers get overlooked. But you show me a company where that doesn’t happen. Like everything else, some people will have a bad experience, while others will love it. Personally I have no issue with Amazon at all and I don’t think I will leave anytime soon.