Google economist Bo Cowgill is quitting to pursue his Ph.D. at Berkeley, he’s told friends.
In itself, Bo’s departure isn’t exactly big bad news for Google (GOOG). But the fact is, Bo is just one of many talented people fleeing the company.
When we went over some of the higher-profile departures in September, we pinned them on three causes:
- Google doesn’t feel as entrepreneurial as it used to.
- There are only so many top spots at Google.
- Other companies try really hard to hire Googlers,
But no one’s quite nailed so well Google’s problem — and what it could do about it — than a reader of ours who goes by the nickname “Sam Southie.” He commented on our post about Googlers quitting to get nice titles at AOL and we just had to re-publish it here. Read:
Contracting headcount at Google has made it impossible for most people to continue to move up and advance careers there, since there isn’t the growth to support it. More to the point, with all of the grade A talent, you find yourself with an abundance of the sort of people who won’t sit around and wait for an opportunity. For the last few years, this has resulted in heavy abdications to start-ups. If being VP at a start-up with 3 other people is more respectable than AOL, you’re kidding yourself.
How does Google continue to keep the troops motivated and excited about their career prospects? A few options spring to mind:
1) Endorse title inflation in Google: This is the Yahoo route — if you can’t make all those managers into directors and directors into VPs based on numbers, at least do some social promotion so people think they’re moving up, even if their span of control hasn’t changed. Senior Engineers can become Architects in droves. They’re all smart people who in any other company would qualify, so who are we hurting here? The main thing that limits this is the peer review process. Prisoner’s Dilemma here.
2) Throw some money at training away the problem: This is the Microsoft route. Don’t tell people no, tell them they need to complete some complex multi-stage training program, and let that program lead them around in circles for a few years. During the process, pluck a few people left and right to keep the rest of the herd motivated, but effectively keep the misdirection up long enough so people feel they’re making progress even when they’re not. Bonus: some of that training might help mature the culture some.
3) Get radically honest and accept the fallout: This is the AOL route — we’re telling the overachievers that they’re not going to get to be a SVP soon and probably ever, and if they quit they quit. Backfill as appropriate with less driven, more status-quo people who can keep the peace and won’t be agitating for promotions you can’t give them. Sound harsh? Remember, the business is growing slower, and shuffling out some of the edgy risky people might be appropriate. There are plenty of A talent who’ve had a family and don’t want to work 80 hours a week any more who might be happy to be a Director for 15 years if it meant they could take off to be at their kids T-ball game. Hire those people to replace the guys who want a shiny new title every 6 months.