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Google is desperate to keep good engineers from leaving, but big money isn’t the only carrot it’s dangling in front of them.In some cases, Google is letting them form their own independent businesses within the company — with almost no oversight for two years.
News of the program leaked last fall, but the model cited was the social gaming company Slide, which Google acquired last summer and which had more than 100 employees.
But according to sources close to the company, the program is not primarily for acquisitions and the teams are usually very small, with maybe five employees. Google sets them up in a satellite office to work on their own project and provides some basic services, but the units don’t really have to report to anybody for about two years.
Anybody can apply to form such a team. But it’s meant to keep talented engineers who otherwise might leave for their own startup.
The program is quite different from Google’s fabled “20% time,” where engineers are encouraged to use their spare time to build extra products. In practice, 20% time was usually 120% time — most folks already worked long hours, and didn’t have any time left over.
Will these teams actually help Google return to its startup roots and produce great products?
Not necessarily. The model for the program was Wave, the real-time communication and collaboration tool, which was created by an autonomous team in Australia.
Wave was technically elegant and might have made a good collaboration tool for small businesses, but Google pitched it as a consumer product. Most people didn’t understand what it was for, and Google basically shut it down a few months later.