Photo: Flickr / Joi
James Whittaker loved working at Google when he joined in 2009 from Microsoft.It was “a technology company first and foremost,” where engineers were encouraged to innovate and the business model of selling ads was in the background.
But earlier this year he quit and went back to his previous employer: Microsoft.
As he writes in a blog post today, everything changed when Larry Page took over last year.
Now, Whittaker says, Google is “an advertising company with a single corporate-mandated focus.”
That focus: beating Facebook by making every Google product more social.
Larry Page himself assumed command to right this wrong. Social became state-owned, a corporate mandate called Google+. It was an ominous name invoking the feeling that Google alone wasn’t enough.
Page did this by mandating that every other product tie back into Google+, and by shutting down experimental projects like Google Labs and cutting back the fabled “20% time” where Googlers were encouraged to invent and experiment.
Whittaker bought into it, working on Google+ as a development manager.
But he says it didn’t work:
As it turned out, sharing was not broken. Sharing was working fine and dandy, Google just wasn’t part of it …. Google was the rich kid who, after having discovered he wasn’t invited to the party, built his own party in retaliation. The fact that no one came to Google’s party became the elephant in the room.
This could be sour grapes from somebody who didn’t get what he wants.
But we’ve spoken to other Google employees who have left in the last year, and a lot of them cited similar problems: a more top-down approach and a manic focus on beating Facebook.
One Googler who left in 2011 told us that Google is “wagering way way more than people think on Google+” and called it the “#1 product” inside the company now.