Meet Google's team of ex-executives who translate programmer-speak and befriend VIP customers

Google greg DeMichillieYouTube/GoogleGoogle’s Greg DeMichillie

One of the first things that VMware cofounder Diane Greene did after she took the reins as Google Cloud boss in late 2015 was to establish the “Office of the CTO,” a unit that would work directly with the largest customers.

The idea, explains Google’s Greg DeMichillie, Director of Product Management with the Office of the CTO, is to meet the need of “this flood of tier-one, top-level executives” from big companies who were excited by Greene’s stellar reputation in the industry, but had only a vague sense of what the cloud was or why they should want it.

While Greene has shown some willingness to sit in on customer meetings, she can’t possibly sit down with every customer and walk them through the basics of the cloud. And while Google has many engineers on staff who could do just that, they tend to focus more on the technical details that can fly over executives’ heads.

Still, DeMichillie says, those customers would come to Google and say “Hey, spend some time with us, give us some advice.” And so, the Office of the CTO was born — a team of about 30 people, half of whom are Google engineers, and half are whom are former CIOs and CTOs “who speak the executive language,” he says.

Working with this office is reserved for big Google customers like Home Depot and HSBC. In a bigger-picture sense, though, DeMichillie says that Google’s willingness to go hands-on, a rarity in a company of their size, is a sign of how the search giant is trying to use the cloud to rethink the ways in which customers interact with vendors.

“This move to cloud,” DeMichillie says, “has the opportunity to shake up those relationships.” He goes on to say that “[customers] don’t get a traditional vendor-client relationship.”

No quota

“We’re not sales; we’re not quotaed,” says DeMichillie.

Instead of pushing products on customers, it’s the Office of the CTO’s job to just listen, educate, and occasionally call in experts from across Google to help them think about what the cloud can do for them.

The first step is taking an inventory, he says: What services are they already using, how many servers do they have, what are they supposed to accomplish, “do you have a mainframe? Where is it?” And that kind of thing. Then, it’s figuring out how to get them there.

Often, DeMichillie says, Google is called in to co-exist with existing services from Microsoft or Amazon; he says that it’s in Google’s best interest to make those kind of deals work. Google invests heavily in technology to make sure that Microsoft technologies like SQL Server or Windows Server work seamlessly in its cloud, as well as all kinds of connectors that let you hook them up to Google’s cloud services.

Google Diane GreeneGoogleGoogle cloud boss Diane Greene

The unofficial vision statement, DeMichillie says, is to “meet them where they are and take them further than they ever thought possible.” In other words, Google would rather make sure that its stuff, especially secret weapons like its artificial intelligence capabilities, can make what you have even better, rather than risk losing you as a customer.

Along those same lines, DeMichillie says that Google Cloud invests in tools for customers to get their data off the service, too. If a customer feels stuck in their relationship with Google, he says, “it’s just not a good relationship for anybody.”

Exit strategy

Once the customer has their house in order, so to speak, that’s when the Office of the CTO hands it back off to “the rest of Google.” From there, they can either finish the project themselves, or hire outside firms like Accenture or PWC to do it for them.

Past that engagement, DeMichillie says, Google focuses a lot on developer outreach. Cloud computing doesn’t work if programmers don’t want to use it to build their applications, and so Google focuses a lot on teaching the virtues of building cloud-ready applications the way that it does under its own roof.

“We like that engineer-to-engineer relationship,” DeMichillie says.

This is really where Google’s nontraditional approach of complementing other systems really pays off, DeMichillie says: Because Google Cloud makes sure that their services play nicely with others, like those Microsoft integrations, he says, it means that programmers aren’t limited in the technologies they can use.

It’s a reflection of the way that programmers like to work, and of the fact that they don’t like having choices taken away. If they don’t like the tool you built, they can go out and get another. That’s no good for Google Cloud or the customer.

“Developers won’t stand for it anymore,” DeMichillie.

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