Monday, August 14, 2006

Building Complete Teams

Mike Arrington has a problem with Google's custom version of the IT'S IT. At first glance, Mike's complaint is completely valid, but a little deeper examination shows he's way off the mark.

First off, just to be clear, I don't work at Google for the free food, and I don't know anyone here who does. That being said, let me take a little tangent before returning to free ice cream sandwiches.

A textbook mistake made by software companies, especially fast-growing software companies, is to focus immensely on hiring the most talented software engineers available, and then to fill any non-engineering position with whoever happens to come along - your recruiters, your admins, your sales department - everyone except for the engineers. The reasoning goes, briefly, "Gosh, compared to engineering, all of those jobs look so easy, how could it matter that much who we hire for them? Let's just fill the seats and get back to finding the best software engineers out there."

If you were to do this in professional basketball, it would be like signing Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, then hiring all your coaches and trainers by walking into the nearest bus depot and shouting, "Would anyone here like to coach basketball?"

This kind of hiring is a big part of what went wrong in the bubble. A lot of companies hiring for our hypothetical basketball coach position would look at a candidate and say, "Well, he's never coached professional basketball before, but he did coach little league baseball once, and it's really the coaching skills we're hiring for - he's a perfect match."

As a result, you wind up with an amazing engineering team surrounded by an absolutely craptacular company. And engineers figure that out really quickly. When good engineers try to get other good engineers hired, but your recruiters can't manage to contact a candidate for four months, engineers notice, and they get unhappy. When your sales team goes out and sells a product that doesn't exist and never will, engineers get unhappy. And when an admin sits at her desk IM'ing her friends instead of setting up the multi-continent conference call that needs to happen yesterday, engineers get unhappy.

The great thing about Google is, we don't have this problem. Plenty of bad things have been said about Google's hiring process being slow, or elitist, or biased toward good-looking women, but we don't hire anyone mediocre to fill any role in the company.

So imagine you're in charge of Google's food operations, and one of your goals is to attract the best and brightest corporate chefs that money can buy. How would you go about that? You might give them the luxury to work with only the finest, freshest, organic ingredients. You might let them work in a state-of-the-art kitchen. And every once in a while, you might give them a chance to take a classic ice cream treat and redo it in a way that aligns with their approach to cooking.

That's my take on it -- a free custom version of the IT'S IT isn't about the people eating it, it's about the people making it. From the description in the blog post, I'd imagine it was a pretty tough task, and it sounds like Nate and his guys did a stupendous job.

Kudos to them.

PS. Remember, when I post on my own blog, I'm not speaking for Google in any way.

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