James Whittaker

Software testing guru James Whittaker left Microsoft to join Google back in 2009. Now he’s back at Microsoft, working as a web futurist, and he has been having a hard time keeping up with all the questions about why he left Google. As he puts it, “answering individually isn’t scaling.”

So today he published a blog post explaining his perspective on what changed at Google during his tenure there. And it’s a fascinating read for anyone seeking insights into what’s happening behind the scenes at Google.

“The Google I was passionate about was a technology company that empowered its employees to innovate,” he writes. “The Google I left was an advertising company with a single corporate-mandated focus.”

That’s the summary, but there’s a lot more to it than that, including Whittaker’s belief that Google has shifted from a culture of employee empowerment to centralized mandates, that it’s putting too much focus on ads vs. the underlying quality of its content, and that its efforts to compete with Facebook using Google+ — an initiative on which he worked — have been futile.

“Google was the rich kid who, after having discovered he wasn’t invited to the party, built his own party in retaliation,” he writes. “The fact that no one came to Google’s party became the elephant in the room.”

In conclusion, he writes, “The old Google was a great place to work. The new one? … -1″

Read the whole post here.

(Thanks to Richard Hay of Windows Observer for the tip.)

Comments

  • Guest

    From the article: “I
    couldn’t even get my own teenage daughter to look at Google+ twice, ‘social isn’t a product,’ she told me after I gave her a demo, ‘social
    is people and the people are on Facebook.'”

    I agree: social isn’t a product. Social networking is a means to an end. Google provides numerous useful ends: e-mail, e-commerce, photo sharing, web browsing, and mobile telephony to name just five. Why, then, is Google+ seen as a failure if its user count falls below that of Facebook’s? Facebook offers no meaningful ends beyond those which one gets with existing Google tools, and without any meaningful applications to use Facebook’s platform — versus the hundreds of thousands on Google’s platform — Google has already won the battle for the people.

    Thank you and welcome back to the real world, James.

    • http://bluefloyd.myopenid.com/ Your Name Here

      Social networking is a means to an end.

      For both Google and Facebook, the end is collecting as much personal info as possible.  The only real difference is that Facebook is better at disguising this fact.

      • Guest

        No, the end for Goobook is selling advertising. They wouldn’t be collecting all this data just for the sake of collecting it.

        The reason why I give all my personal information to Goobook is to do certain things that use it, such as planning events, sharing photos, et cetera. If there is no productive thing that a company can do with my personal information, that company doesn’t get my personal information.

        Honestly, geeks are nice people but I am often amazed at their total lack of insight into any business or non-technical issue.

        • Guest

          Yeah, their end game is selling advertising to their customer, which is advertisers. Users like you, or at least your personal information, is the main commodity being sold.

          True, in some cases users like you volunteer that info in exchange for services you deem valuable. But as has been demonstrated on several occasions now, it turns out Google has been mining  information through various mechanisms without user knowledge or approval.

          Your last comment is a gross generalization with numerous well known examples to show it’s false. There isn’t even sufficient information in YourNameHere’s comment to make it stick in even his case. So perhaps go easy on the condescension.

          • Guest

            I signed up for Google. I read the terms of service. I understand the price I pay to use Google and the benefits that Google gives me in return. Some, unfortunately, do not, and they make “gross generalizations” without mind to the fact.

            Honestly, if engineers were to have stopped pretending to be lawyers and were to have done their job, the next Google would have been formed by now.

          • Guest

            Your response again fails to address the fact that Google has been caught several times collecting information beyond what users were aware of or had approved. Indeed, they’re currently being investigated by the FTC (among others) because of that.

            So now you’re extending the generalization to not just “geeks” but all engineers? Really?

            The next Google, whatever that means, probably already has been formed. Like most things in technology, by the time it becomes obvious to everyone who that is, they will likely have been working towards it for many years previously, just under the radar.

          • Guest

            The FTC is powerless to stop Google. Do you have any idea how angry we would get if the FTC, or any government agency, were to deny us the use of our favorite search engine, e-mail client, mobile phone OS, web browser, GPS navigator, social network, and word processor?

            If you’d read the FTC’s so-called “complaints,” they are without merit anyway. Sniffing an open wireless network, for example, is the equivalent of listening to a man shout his credit card number in a public plaza. Certainly the data gathered could be used to commit a fraud, but exposing insecurity is not a crime in and of itself. The FTC continues its anti-business witch-hunt against Google in an effort to cripple it, as they did to Microsoft successfully 17 years ago. We the people will not tolerate it.

            I’m extending my condescension to all persons who would rather argue than build. For that reason, I am declaring an immediate end to this education session so that you can please get back to work.

          • Guest

            Redirect, evade. Rinse, repeat.

          • Guest

            Win.

          • Markmwf

            Fail

          • Guest

            Redirect, evade. Rinse, repeat.

        • http://bluefloyd.myopenid.com/ Your Name Here

          No, the end for Goobook is selling advertising.

          Information has intrinsic value — which is why “the Google” collects it. Advertising is only one possible way to monetize it. There are lots of others; many of which “the Google” has yet to explore.

  • Guest

    Most of his criticisms of Google, while perhaps valid, seems equally true of MS – which he already left once and is now returning to.

    • Lord Vader

      Empire pays better + it doesn’t try to disguise as a “good guys”.

  • http://www.christopherbudd.com Christopher Budd

    As one of the posters has already remarked, the “old Google/new Google” dichotomy also applies pretty clearly to Microsoft as well. 

    The things that he outlines as being lost at Google have been been observed to have been lost at Microsoft for a number of years (just read Mini Microsoft and you’ll see).

    At the end of the day, I think it’s just the classic problem of the changes companies go through as they mature and get older. They get more lawyers, more bureaucracy, more managers, more politics.

    It is beginning to be an interesting time though. 

    His points about Google being in strategic danger  from Facebook are interesting, particularly the idea that they may already be too late for the next wave. Microsoft’s future is uncertain with the post-PC era coming on hard and fast. Apple’s future without Steve Jobs is a major unknown. All these major entities are entering periods of change and uncertainty and the next few years could be interesting indeed.

    Might not be a bad time to check out some startups, eh?

    • Matt Cutts

      I love the new Google. My job is to make more money for Google but I try to convince webmasters that less traffic to them is better.

      I also love Google+, I hate the 10 blue links, I love Panda, I love seeing all ads on search pages, I love everything Google will do in the next 5 years, and hate all our competitors.

  • Matt Cutts

    I am a Googler and I love our new analytical culture. For far too long Google was sending visitors to non-advertisers, leaving money in the table. Now our stock is up, earnings have increased and some freeloaders are whining.

    • Guest

      We can always count on you to stay classy, Matt. Oh right, nevermind…

    • Guest

      Nice! I’m sure the real Matt wouldn’t appreciate someone invoking his name to troll people on a local tech blog, but I do!

      • Matt Cutts

        You too, can be Matt Cutts. Enter matt@google.com in the email field and join the gang of 4-5 truth-telling Matt’s.

  • http://bluefloyd.myopenid.com/ Your Name Here

    This story makes me sad. Geeks are nice people (I r 1) but I am often amazed at their total lack of insight into any business or non-technical issue.

    Simple, undeniable fact — any company that makes 90+% of it’s money from advertising is first and foremost an advertising company.  All else is secondary.  Expecting anything else is just naive.

    George Bush probably didn’t know it but he was one to something when he called them “the Google”. As in “the Borg”, they travel throughout the universe gathering personal information and adapting technology to fit their advertising driven culture.  

  • Guest

    Google recruiting process is very very show….
     too many Indians there. One thing is for sure – the company is getting worse with these Indians….  

  • Rubybishop1

    Atleast Google is being upfront about it, even publishing T&C’s etc.  Which, is a lot more then most other sites

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Sagiv-Hadaya/904380075 Sagiv Hadaya

    And by party you mean google wave, wiki search, google catalog, web accelerator, google music, dodgeball, google buzz and the latest google plus?

    yeah, those were some aweseome parties!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Sagiv-Hadaya/904380075 Sagiv Hadaya

    And by party you mean google wave, wiki search, google catalog, web accelerator, google music, dodgeball, google buzz and the latest google plus?

    yeah, those were some aweseome parties!

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