If you’re like me, you’ve probably always assumed that Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin are pretty great at writing code.
You may have even assumed that Page and Brin wrote the code that made Google.com so fast and powerful as long ago as the late 1990s.
I’ve been reading early Googler Douglas Edwards’ excellent book about the company’s startup days.
It’s called “I’m Feeling Lucky: The Confessions of Google Employee Number 59.” You should buy it if startups fascinate you.
The book reveals that Page and Brin actually had little to do with making the code that powered Google back then.
In the book, early Google engineering boss Craig Silverstein says “I didn’t trust Larry and Sergey as coders.”
“I had to deal with their legacy code from the Stanford days and it had a lot of problems. They’re research coders: more interested in writing code that works than code that’s maintainable.”
One Google engineer from back then says the most remarkable thing about the co-founders’ code was that when it broke, users would see funny error message: “Whoa, horsey!”
It turns out the developers most responsible for building the Google.com that quickly became the Web’s most powerful company are two guys you’ve probably never heard of.
The first is Urs Hözle. According to one early Googler quoted by Edwards, Hözle was “the key” to Google’s early success.
Edwards writes, “Enough engineers sang his praises that this book could have been written entirely as a hagiography of Saint Urs, Keeper of the Blessed Code.”
The second is Jeff Dean. Edwards writes that “Jeff pumped out elegant code like a champagne fountain at a wedding.”
“It seemed to pour from him effortlessly in endless streams that flowed together to form sparkling programs that did remarkable things. He once wrote a two-hundred-thousand-line application to help the Centres for Disease Control manage specialised statistics for epidemiologists. It’s still in use and garners more peer citations than any of the dozens of patented programs he has produced in a decade at Google. He wrote it as a summer intern in high school.”
Hözle and Dean still work at Google. Dean is so highly regarded that Google employees still make flattering jokes about it.
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