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Pleasing Google's Tech-Savvy Staff 142

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the nobody-even-tries-to-please-us dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Douglas Merrill, Google Inc.'s chief information officer, is charged with answering that question. His job is to give Google workers the technology they need, and to keep them safe — without imposing too many restrictions on how they do their job. So the 37-year-old has taken an unorthodox approach. Unlike many IT departments that try to control the technology their workers use, Mr. Merrill's group lets Google employees download software on their own, choose between several types of computers and operating systems, and use internal software built by the company's engineers. Lately, he has also spent time evangelizing to outside clients about Google's own enterprise-software products — such as Google Apps, an enterprise version of Google's Web-based services including e-mail, word processing and a calendar."
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Pleasing Google's Tech-Savvy Staff

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  • All Credit to Him (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Avohir (889832) on Wednesday March 19, 2008 @10:56AM (#22795512)
    I've had to do IT work for tech companies before, and it's like being the caterer at a chef's convention, they always think they could do it better. That he's managed to do it with a relative degree of success at a place as eclectic and high profile as google is impressive. I think the approach is novel too, although I'm not sure how well it would apply outside of their unique company culture.
    • by zappepcs (820751) on Wednesday March 19, 2008 @11:03AM (#22795624) Journal
      It always applies to other companies. The thought process it takes to create software services is what I believe should be the approach to network services. If each little group of employees is walled off the basic network, and their access outside that playpen restricted to what they need, any major error inside the playpen is less likely to corrupt the whole network. Much like a city's services are configured. Everyone needs water, electric, sewage, trash service, roads etc. If you trip the breaker in your office, the next office building is unaffected just as they are normally unaffected if your toilet overflows. In that way each can do pretty much whatever they like and all remain unharmed. I'm not saying that your hobby of cultivating anthrax is going to fly for very long, but short of that... well, you can (more or less) grow what you want in your window-box garden. You can walk down the street to the park, just not through everyone's backyards.

      The idea is not to restrict people, but restrict damaging elements from hopping around your network.
      • Re:All Credit to Him (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Kelbear (870538) on Wednesday March 19, 2008 @11:17AM (#22795798)
        I think the kinds of people Google hires are less likely to run executables and install toolbars from seedy and irreputable niches of the internet. Other companies probably can't assume the same of their employees.

        Even smart people can make errors of ignorance or naivetè with regards to their computers. It's nice that they've cordoned off the system to prevent them from torpedoing the whole network at once, but you still have a mess on the other side of the wall to clean up. Most of the important stuff is probably saved where they're regularly backed up(Google sure as hell isn't going to have problems with storage space) but there's definitely going to be downtime involved.

        It's probably not worth the cost and risk for most companies. If someone wants or needs something on their system, just having them ask first is a reasonable approach.
        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward
          I think the kinds of people Google hires are less likely to run executables and install toolbars from seedy and irreputable niches of the internet. Other companies probably can't assume the same of their employees.

          Exactly. IT security at most companies is designed around the belief that the average clueless user will find a way to screw something up if given too much freedom. So we lock them down in order to minimize the damage that they can do.

          That's less of a problem with more technically inclined
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by nschubach (922175)
            Considering myself a technically inclined user (being a senior developer) I lock my machine down myself. I know it sounds backwards, but I don't want rogue applications running on my machine when I'm testing. Not even the ones used by my company to keep the system "inventoried."
          • by rmerry72 (934528)

            That's less of a problem with more technically inclined users. At my organization, we keep most of our users locked down but give our development group freedom similar to what is described in the article. They're a competent lot, fairly trustworthy and they're right across the hall. So we let them do whatever they want on their workstations, within reasonable limits.

            Oh, that's nice of you. You LET us developers do our job on equipment provided to us for that purpose. Thanx.

            I'm being argumentative I real

        • Exactly. That was my first thought when reading this article. It's fairly safe to assume that the employees at google are tech-savvy and motivated. It is *not* safe to assume that the customer service representatives, accountants and other non-IT workers at most other companies are equally knowledgeable about what is and what is not a good idea on company computers.

          For that matter, even IT workers can be pretty adept at shooting themselves in the foot. At a place I used to work, one IT staff member w
          • by rtb61 (674572)
            Really all google are doing is getting their tech staff, to research, trial and test applications in their own time and at their own expense. When it works they do limited deployments in the company, interesting certainly, a tad exploitative definitely.

            At the end of the day, it is all about a psychologists endeavouring to manipulate the greatest possible productivity out of the work force until they burn out. Google is a marketing company through and through, hence they use every marketing tactic availabl

          • the problem with the computer was it had been infected with a virus...which then spread to (and hosed) most of the corporate network, rather than being restricted to our sandbox. Oops...
            So you got rid of all those dangerous Windows boxes and installed virus-proof Linux? Just asking.
            • Don't I wish!

              The problem at that job was that we were sys admins in the ISP department. The company had a separate internal IT department to manage employee desktops, except for ours. We were free to install what we wanted, as long as it was properly licensed. The two sys admins who infected the network were Windows guys; most of the rest of us (including me) used Linux desktops. Interestingly enough, the laptop that caused the problem was issued by the internal IT department, a fact that I found gre
        • by Instine (963303)
          However, its not the impression I got when I was there. In and interview i was told that "we don't use IDEs here" and "we use EMACS or bla...". My fondness for VS was definitely frowned upon!
        • by bit01 (644603)

          It's probably not worth the cost and risk for most companies. If someone wants or needs something on their system, just having them ask first is a reasonable approach.

          No it isn't. You've just created a catch-22. How the hell is a user able to know whether an application is useful to them without installing and testing it?

          I've worked in far too many places where people didn't install what would have been useful and productive software because it was just not worth the hassle. That by itself is an indic

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by TheLink (130905)
        That's fine if the walls are 100%.

        If you allow some employees access through those walls to other networks, and a hacker manages to get their credentials it can start to get quite nasty.

        Even if the isolation between networks is good there's also the possibility of _work_ being secretly tampered with. I'm sure there are hacker who would want to tamper with GMail or Google Desktop.

        Or confidential information leaking out.

        • by nschubach (922175)
          I guess that would depend on how separate your production data is from your development environment. If you give your devs full access to production, you're asking for leaks and trouble. In your scenario, with a proper separation of development and production, you shouldn't really have a rogue hacker be able to get to sensitive data on your protected production network. Well, that and you wouldn't have a developer push something to production without proper testing causing Google.com to go down... I'm as
          • by TheLink (130905)
            The dangerous hackers aren't those that cause things to go down. So how are you going to notice those? It's hard for a hacker to bring the whole of google.com down, especially since it's "sharded" - you could just have different teams in charge of keeping their respective shards up and give bonuses based on uptime (factoring out externalities beyond their control) - then regularly adopt the best practices and ideas from the top groups.

            Good luck with the IDS/IPS when your employees also use encryption (ssh,
    • by hummassa (157160)

      I've had to do IT work for tech companies before, and it's like being the caterer at a chef's convention, they always think they could do it better. That he's managed to do it with a relative degree of success at a place as eclectic and high profile as google is impressive. I think the approach is novel too, although I'm not sure how well it would apply outside of their unique company culture.

      The fact is: if you are the caterer at a chef's convention, probably (1) 80% of them would do it better than you and (2) the remaining 20% wouldn't, but they do think they would.
      So, all credit to him for making them cook their own meals, which was more intelligent anyway and less reputation-damaging.

  • Nice approach (Score:3, Insightful)

    by the computer guy nex (916959) on Wednesday March 19, 2008 @10:56AM (#22795514)
    Unfortunately it will take only one mistake by one employee to ruin it for everyone.
    • Re:Nice approach (Score:5, Insightful)

      by SanityInAnarchy (655584) <ninja@slaphack.com> on Wednesday March 19, 2008 @11:10AM (#22795700) Journal

      I'm not really sure how that works.

      Other than leaking source code onto the Internet, I don't really see what problems this could cause. I work at a small company with a similar philosophy -- the company buys your hardware, and certain software if you need it, but you can use whatever you want so long as you're not fighting with it on the clock.

      But think about it: Spam botnets can be blocked by killing port 25 outbound. Data loss can be managed by the fact that everything's on version control, which is backed up. Traditional spyware and viruses will at worst take a machine down, at which point, it's the responsibility of whoever owns that machine to fix it -- or maybe they try to spread over the local network, at which point, staying patched and/or running a personal firewall will pretty much stop it.

      The only real danger would be if we got big enough to be a target for deliberate attacks, and someone stole our source code. Google is arguably this big, but I've never heard of a leak from them. TFA does mention a possible strategy:

      We have antivirus and antispyware running on people's machines, but we also have those things on our mail server. We have programs in our infrastructure to watch for strange behavior. This means I don't have to worry about the endpoint as much.

      So what mistake could one employee make to ruin it for everyone?

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        So what mistake could one employee make to ruin it for everyone?

        Your logic is faulty.

        Traditional spyware and viruses will at worst take a machine down

        Google is not targetted by 'traditional' viruses/spyware. The first hacker to take down their network, either internal or external facing, would be infamous.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by jd142 (129673)
          Well, let's say that an employee downloads a piece of software with a license agreement that allows the software manufacturer to monitor all the data the users produces, what websites the user visits, and gives the software manufacturer the right to keep that information in perpetuity. By installing the software on google computers as an employee of google, google is now bound by that license. So sensitive company information ends up being stored on the software manufacturer's computers in perpetuity. An
          • by argiedot (1035754)
            I would think that such licence agreements wouldn't stand up in court, as in there are some things you just can't agree to[1]. I am not a lawyer and have no knowledge of law whatsoever, of course, but I would think that this would be one such case.

            [1]You can't accept a licence that makes you a slave, I think, or that says that you can be killed, of which I'm sure.
            • by jd142 (129673)
              Just out of curiosity, which of the 3 examples were you thinking wouldn't hold up in court?

              The first example, about monitoring all communications and tracking is pretty close to Google's own licenses.

              The second example is close to one we ran into where the license said for non-commercial use only. The software's writer said he meant that to be interpreted as a personal computer at home, not a registered non-profit entity. We probably would have won if it had ever actually been adjudicated, but we just fou
          • by ampathee (682788)
            Have software clickwrap licences even been tested in court yet?

            Are you *sure* google would be bound to an agreement clicked-through by one of its employees? Sounds unlikely to me, but of course IANAL.
            • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

              Have software clickwrap licences even been tested in court yet?

              Yes. At least in Germany. Here, you, the purchaser, need to able to reed the EULA/ToS before even buying the software.

        • by somersault (912633) on Wednesday March 19, 2008 @12:47PM (#22796966) Homepage Journal

          The first hacker to take down their network, either internal or external facing, would be infamous.
          He'd also be killed in less than 24 hours by an army of angry geeks who want their porn back
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            I think it has less to do with a hacker and more to do with litigation. IBM for example is extremely anal about what developers are allowed access when creating applications and have to account for everything they do. Because when your a large multinational with lots of money people will try to get it from you.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          Your logic is faulty.

          Show me how.

          The first hacker to take down their network, either internal or external facing, would be infamous.

          And traditional viruses/spyware won't do that.

          The trouble is, modern OSes are reasonably secure at this point, and you can bet the external-facing IPs are going to be locked down. Same with internal services -- some random developer's desktop might be open, but the service is going to be secure. So what you're talking about is someone actively making a "hacking" attempt at

      • So what mistake could one employee make to ruin it for everyone?

        Installing your entire warez collection on your work computer. Sure you'd get fired when you finally get caught, but if the BSA raids the company before you're found out it could be major fines the company is responsible for. Yes they could go after you in court for it to pass on the cost, but that's even more overhead dealing with the legal system. Even barring that, there's lots of ways to misplace license keys, and the BSA won't cut you any slack unless you've got damned good records.

        • Sure you'd get fired when you finally get caught, but if the BSA raids the company before you're found out it could be major fines the company is responsible for.

          Seems to me they could just as easily turn around and sue you for abuse of company property. I'm sure you signed an agreement with what you're legally allowed to do (or not do) with company equipment. And if it was your own equipment, it's even less their problem.

          Even barring that, there's lots of ways to misplace license keys, and the BSA won't

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by TheLink (130905)
        "So what mistake could one employee make to ruin it for everyone"

        Get pwn3d and:
        a) Commit GMail/etc code secretly backdoored by a hacker.
        b) Leak out the search ranking and antisearch spam methods/algorithm google uses. Google's search results are already not as good as they were years ago.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by bishiraver (707931)
          a) I'm fairly certain google employees would review each others code before commits. TFA mentions they have automated scripts that check security of code.
          b) I got nothin', though I'm willing to bet the search algorithm is one of those things that not many people get to see/tinker with.
        • Commit GMail/etc code secretly backdoored by a hacker.

          That seems a bit absurd. Aside from code being reviewed on commit, or periodically, do you think they'd be able to actually deploy it to gmail.com without it being caught first? I really hope they're testing things separately and internally before making them live, even if it is a "beta" product.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by element-o.p. (939033)

        Data loss can be managed by the fact that everything's on version control, which is backed up. Traditional spyware and viruses will at worst take a machine down, at which point, it's the responsibility of whoever owns that machine to fix it -- or maybe they try to spread over the local network, at which point, staying patched and/or running a personal firewall will pretty much stop it.

        That's a great theory, but more often than not, that *isn't* the way things really work. I've seen sys admins really bork config files that were using RCS. I've seen a virus take a network down for two days despite updated and running A/V and firewalls. Anyone who has worked in IT for very long is forced to admit that you can make it really, really difficult for your users to shoot themselves in the foot, but nothing you can do can guarantee security. The best firewall, the best anti-virus and the be

    • It will take 1 mistake to ruin that one computer he's working with, but Google can well afford to just buy another if it keeps its engineers happy.
    • by pongo000 (97357)

      Unfortunately it will take only one mistake by one employee to ruin it for everyone.


      Only in an organization run by an IT staff that doesn't have a clue. In any other company, said employee would simply be put on a very short leash, or shown the door.
    • If you read behind the lines, there are security measures in the network to prevent problems from spreading, and there are networks within the network, so really sensitive information is only available to few people.

      It sounds like a superior approach, that probably will only work if you have a superior IT staff. So I'm not sure it is something that will scale to the rest of the industry.
  • tried to read TFA, much to my surprise it isn't there...someone got the story?
  • by dangerz (540904) <stuff@tildastudi[ ]net ['os.' in gap]> on Wednesday March 19, 2008 @11:02AM (#22795600) Homepage
    With all the restrictions on tools and languages, it seems like our IT holds us back more often than pushing us forward.

    I recently built an application for my group that started off in PHP/MySQL. The customers were using it and loving it, but IT said they're not interested in supporting PHP and we weren't allowed to stand up a server. After months of talk with them and compromising, it was rewritten into JSP/Oracle. Then they said we're not allowed to do that either, so we agreed on C#.net/MS SQL. I rewrote it to that and after a month, they again came back and said no way. Getting ever more frustrated (I now had the same program in several languages), I ended up in C# Desktop Application instead of web/MySQL. They've been complaining again, but we have more leverage there in that my entire group was stood up to build desktop apps. I'll probably have to switch it to Oracle, but that shouldn't be a big hit.

    We wasted lots of time and money rewriting what was already done all because of politics. I always thought IT was meant to *support* rather than hinder.
    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Sounds like your manage is a little bitch and didn't get them to do their jobs.
      My view is that situations like this are what managers are for. They are there to traverse the politics for you to get your php application up because that's what needs to be done. They also have more leverage when talking to the IT department's manager, or when talking to the Department Manager that the IT manager probably reports to, which is good.
    • by pongo000 (97357) on Wednesday March 19, 2008 @11:28AM (#22795914)

      With all the restrictions on tools and languages, it seems like our IT holds us back more often than pushing us forward.


      Beware of any job where IT support calls the shots. That is an incredibly inane and inefficient business model. IT support is exactly that: They are there to support development efforts, not to hinder them with brain-damaged policies usually written and enforced by CTOs that don't have a clue and administered by low-paying drones who substitute authority for what they lack on the pay scale.

      Why even bother working for a company like that? With the upswing in IT, you sound like you've got way more than enough experience to find a job elsewhere.
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward
        I'm in finance/IT and I'd just like to say: *all* large financial companies are like the one described by pongo000.

        Why not switch to a company like google ?
        Simple: they pay me so much money that this form of light torture / kafkaesque work environment is still more attractive to me. The banks I work for pay me approx 4 times more than google would - this way, I can retire when I'm 40 years old (and spend time doing interesting/creative IT stuff instead of having to be chained to a corporate entity).

        I work t
      • by dangerz (540904)
        Normally, it's an amazing job. I work on several fighter plane programs so I get to see and be part of some awesome technology. It's just dealing with IT that sucks.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by VENONA (902751)
        Users v Admins is yet another category of religious war, and has been for at least 30 years. It's further complicated by the fact that the role of IT can (and does) vary from org to org. Sometimes it follows a role somewhat like you'd find described in a college's curricula listing, but they sometimes absorb more MIS-like functions, etc.

        One large factor that keeps the war burning brightly is that the relative skills between various user communities and an administration community is also all over the map. I
        • I think your experienced divided shops to much. Try a silo approach where teams do full life cycle with admins involved from the specifications phase (things like can it work with our existing SSO engine CB evals on adding new platforms to the mix etc) and the devs involved with long term support (write a bad app you gets 3am calls, feedback loops weed out bad calls and blind passing up). Once your done a few projects that way it often leads to a much better integration.

          My favorite MTA fun is a large insu
          • by VENONA (902751)
            I'm dead-on with you for all of your first para. That's the better world, and not seen remotely often enough.

            Re: the second para, using email as a message-passing interface. I've an example that backs up your first para.

            I once created such a beast, horrible as it is, in concept. The data source was commercial software that couldn't emit anything but warning emails, and the demands upon the system I needed to create demonstrably wouldn't grow beyond a message count in the low hundreds in any 24-hour period.

            S
            • Unfortunately thats a world that CTO's have to build. It's very easy to segment things I've even done it during my time as a CTO. Ultimately to build silo teams has to be a management choice and it involves giving up some control. But then again being able to give up control and instead lead is when management gets fun (and keeping your guys out of office politics and getting them what they need to be successful but thats another thread) granted I'm a CS major that manages because it makes my projects s
              • by VENONA (902751)
                LOL. Figures that when I do a post that mentions Roving Bands of Managers, a CTO would be reading the thread. I've always been lucky that way...

                OTOH, I wish CTOs who were also CS majors would post in a lot more places. For example http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/03/20/motoring_offences_clampdown/ [theregister.co.uk]
                has the math wrong. They forgot /2. A CTO/CS major might be able to write directly to an editor, and have some effect on editorial policy.

                I guess I just wish CTOs would encourage their people to post in public for
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by filterban (916724)
      Wow. Did you bother asking them what they would support before writing the application? That seems like the better approach to me.

      If they're only willing to support a specific language, then you need to work in their requirement (generally speaking).
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by mc900ftjesus (671151)
        Does IT make the company money? No, not a dime, they're a money sink-hole like electricity and phones. They don't call the shots just like the maintenance man doesn't call the shots. IT departments need to be enablers. When IT crosses the line from preventing you from installing tons of crap on your desktop to killing the rollout of a platform that generates revenue, someone in management should have been fired on the spot, no questions asked. IT should never dictate a product, only internal policy.
        • by filterban (916724)
          What if the IT department was doing code-level support and their staff only was trained in supporting a specific language and infrastructure?

          I agree with you in principle, but it sounds like in the original comment that there was no communication between IT and the developer in question.
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by dangerz (540904)
            This app started in PHP before I was here. When I came in, I rewrote it in PHP to make it more efficient and strip out some of the fat. There were emails with IT on it and they didn't seem to care. It wasn't until the app got popular and used that it became an issue.

            My management did their best to fight it, but IT has a strong pull here I guess.
            • by Firehed (942385)
              Did it serve its purpose? If so, why the hell would they care what language it's written in? Were they in some sort of strange denial that a PHP/MySQL app can be used in a useful/large-scale/production/"real" environment, or was there a legitimate need to recode it into a MS-centric solution? The sales people where I work talk about .NET as if it's magic powder that you can sprinkle in your server room and have everything start working (while not knowing a damn thing about it, other than our product uses
        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by mungtor (306258)
          "Does IT make the company money? No, not a dime, they're a money sink-hole like electricity and phones."

          IT is a cost, but if they are doing their jobs correctly they can also work to save the company money. Most software engineers have no clue about what technology would be best to implement their products on, they only know what got touted as the best/fastest/newest thing on ./ and therefore they *must* have it (otherwise IT is "blocking" them, of course).

          Generally, there's just too much ego involved fro
        • by afidel (530433)
          Money is nothing but a measure time and value, if IT is doing their job they are saving the company so much time that when multiplied times the average salary in the company they are in fact making the company TONS of money in reduced labor costs. That's why I restrict my users, because I get them the tools they need to do their job efficiently and I keep those tools up and running and performing well enough so that they aren't the bottleneck in the organization.
          • by rmerry72 (934528)

            That's why I restrict my users, because I get them the tools they need to do their job efficiently and I keep those tools up and running and performing well enough so that they aren't the bottleneck in the organization.

            Are you qualified to know every tool that a user might want / need for every job, specifically software engineers? Do you know how they should be doing their job efficiently and so not be a bottleneck? I doubt it.

            You're there to support your users not dictate to them. If you are qualified

            • by afidel (530433)
              A) I only support a small handfull of developers and they all have local admin and are expected to maintain their own boxes.

              B) Even if I WAS qualified to do every job in the organization not that many of them would be more highly compensated. Due to the multiplier effect of my efficiency gains I am more valuable to a company making lots of people productive then I am doing some singular job. As a wise man once said, pick up a nickel and you have a nickel, have 10,000 people pick up nickels for you and soon
      • by Tetsujin (103070)

        Wow. Did you bother asking them what they would support before writing the application?
        Well, from what he said it sounds like:

        - Initially, no - they wrote the thing in PHP just 'cause (maybe it was a prototype or maybe the devs were just experimenting and found they'd come up with something people wanted)
        - In subsequent rewrites, yes - they agreed on C#, for instance, and then IT changed their mind after the thing was rewritten again in C#...
    • by houghi (78078) on Wednesday March 19, 2008 @12:01PM (#22796346)
      I feel with you. The several IT departments I wored with have the same attidute of not wanting to change anything and forbid everything that could hinder them.

      The worst I have seen was where I requested an email to be send from a a system. I knew it was possible. What was even worse was the fact that they had bought the CRM package for a LOT of money, because it was able to do so.

      So when I asked if it would be possible to implement it, the answer was that I needed to fill out a request. I told them I could only fill out the request if I knew how much money it would cost.

      Catch 22. The procedure on how to do things was written and nothing could change that.

      I have seen IT departments that were unable to remove certain rights from people if they would not need them anymore, because there was no procedure for it.

      I myself had, due to human error, access to each and every place in the building. More then anybody else. When I mentioned this, they told me that because I got it, somebody must have OKed it so I have the right to it.

      IT departments just LOVE procedures. Basicaly because they are so easy to put in logical yes and no questions and answers. They should start with some debugging of their procedures and realise that the real world is more then if, then, else.

      It seems that the person at Google has done just that.
      • by Fastolfe (1470)

        IT departments just LOVE procedures. Basicaly because they are so easy to put in logical yes and no questions and answers. They should start with some debugging of their procedures and realise that the real world is more then if, then, else.

        I call this the Principle of Least Work. If you have a department that has or can easily justify some form of authority over another (and any services-oriented department can do this by virtue of controlling access to the service, in this case IT services), without

      • It generally doesn't start like this but they end up like this one step at a time.

        To start off with IT is really helpful but then different departments start to abuse the IT department:
        • Sales ask IT to help them with charts, report, power point slides
        • Department ask them to rush through a project
        • Managers ask them to make a minor change.

        Generally the IT department starts off without any power and they do what they are told until something goes wrong:

        • To many IT staff are required because they are all
    • by kiwimate (458274)
      After months of talk with them and compromising, it was rewritten into JSP/Oracle. Then they said we're not allowed to do that either, so we agreed on C#.net/MS SQL. I rewrote it to that and after a month, they again came back and said no way. Getting ever more frustrated (I now had the same program in several languages), I ended up in C# Desktop Application instead of web/MySQL.

      What am I missing? You had discussions with IT and agreed on whatever platform. What happened when they said "no way", and you wav
    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      We wasted lots of time and money rewriting what was already done all because of politics. I always thought IT was meant to *support* rather than hinder.

      Not if it's Microsoft. Then the 'IT' department is working against you. Sure you pay them, but their goal is to further the agenda of their political party. It's got stock and it files with the SEC but sure enough some kind a political party.

      If they can't force you to toe Bill's line, they do their most to throw sand in your gears to see if you'll give up.

    • See, after the first time you spent a month rewriting a working application to satisfy requirements agreed to by the IT Department, only to have the delivered work capriciously rejected, that's when your department should have gone to the CEO/VP/any bigwig with a sympathetic ear, and the director of IT should have gotten a chewing-out.

    • by Culture20 (968837)
      Sounds like there weren't any security impact meetings and that one group in "IT" didn't care, but once the app was up and running, another group (whatever your security group is called) _did_ care, a _lot_. IT isn't just a "utility" through which the money makers provide services to the clients, it's also a buffer that protects the whole company from security flaws that can lose said clients.
    • by rmerry72 (934528)

      I recently built an application for my group that started off in PHP/MySQL. The customers were using it and loving it, but IT said they're not interested in supporting PHP and we weren't allowed to stand up a server.

      And at that point I'd talk to my manager to talk to IT's manager. If nothing happened in a month go above him and explain the effect of IT's policy to the company's bottom line. If that then doesn't work - walk out and start your own company running your own servers with your PHP script. Obvio

    • You can write in at least three languages/DB's, desktop and web apps, and you're working for these tools?

      What, do you get a free car every month? Free sex? Do you work at the Vatican?

      These are about the only things that would motivate most people to put up with it.

  • The question is... (Score:2, Informative)

    by adpsimpson (956630)

    From the article:

    "How do you run the information-technology department at a company whose employees are considered among the world's most tech-savvy?"
    • by Jellybob (597204)
      The way we do it at the place I work (a mid-sized ISP), is that the first thing you do when you start is pick an operating system, and install it on your workstation. From that point forward maintaining your desktop is your job - IT support are there to manage the network, the internal file servers, and to look after the non-technical departments Windows machines.

      This works remarkably well, but that's because our floor is about a 50/50 split of software developers and sysadmins, and we all know our way arou
      • This is exactly like the company where I work.

        Well, we usually don't have to install our own workstations--new employees usually get a machine that used to belong to someone who left. They can reinstall it if they want, but no one bothers. Engineering desktops are an eclectic mix of Debian, Ubuntu, and Fedora. The actual machines are usually old HP, Compaq, or Gateway PCs, but we also have several System76 boxen with preinstalled Ubuntu.

        For engineers, we maintain our own desktops, though the company-iss
        • by Jellybob (597204)

          Well, we usually don't have to install our own workstations--new employees usually get a machine that used to belong to someone who left.


          I think people *would* do that around here, except one of your last day tasks is to cause as much damage to the OS as possible, so that the next person has to reinstall ;)

          You should see people's faces when they realise there's no shell installed on their desktop anymore, and ps is doing funny things.
  • How? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Okay... Sounds interesting, but how exactly security and proper licensing is maintained? Could other companies emulate it?
    • Re:How? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by orclevegam (940336) on Wednesday March 19, 2008 @11:14AM (#22795758) Journal

      Okay... Sounds interesting, but how exactly security and proper licensing is maintained? Could other companies emulate it?
      Maybe. Depends a lot on the company I imagine. Part of the reason it flies at google is because of something mentioned in the article. Almost everyone is an engineer of some type, and they all have security training. The security bit isn't as important, but as far as licenses go, most of them should understand you can't for instance bring your copy of MS Word in from home and install it on your company system. At companies with less technically inclined individuals, they may not see the problem with installing whatever software they can find on their company systems (talking from a purely licensing standpoint here, not talking about security). Essentially if Google got raided by the BSA they'd probably fair pretty well, but some other non-IT centric company might not fair as well with a similar IT policy. Of course, there's no reason for any company not to implement a similar policy for all their technical users at least.
  • Mostly fluff (Score:5, Insightful)

    by orclevegam (940336) on Wednesday March 19, 2008 @11:07AM (#22795668) Journal
    Not much to this article but there are a few interesting tidbits. A lot is in the summary, so not much need to go to the actual article, but something interesting not in the summary is when he talks about googles security environment, and why it's not really a security risk to let people install whatever they want. What it boils down to, is that the old style security of locking down the endpoints (that is, peoples workstations) makes people sleep better, but doesn't actually provide much in the way of security. Instead they focused on securing the infrastructure, such as running AV software on the mail server, and intrusion detection software that monitors the networks and servers, plus one would assume properly configured firewalls. He also mentions that being a search company they already had really tight security in place and that few people had access to customer data, so adding security to support outside enterprise data wasn't a big leap.
  • Mr Merrill: "....We use automated tools that check every engineer's code."

    So who writes these 'automated tools' and who checks those? I sure hope they have a human in the security audit mix somewhere....
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by ccguy (1116865) *

      So who writes these 'automated tools' and who checks those?

      Most likely they use those tools to check themselves, pretty much as you compile (most of) a compiler with itself, debug a debugger, and so on.

      If you are interested in how these recursive tools work, check valgrind [valgrind.org]'s documentation (interesting because it relates a bit how some design decisions were made so that valgrind could be used on itself) for example.

      • by tkw954 (709413)

        So who writes these 'automated tools' and who checks those?

        Most likely they use those tools to check themselves, pretty much as you compile (most of) a compiler with itself, debug a debugger, and so on.

        Yeah, but then you become vulnerable to a checker that (by malevolent design) overlooks a security fault in both itself and other programs. Something like Ken Thompson's "Reflections on Trusting Trust" [wikipedia.org] in which the compiler inserts a backdoor into the login program, but also inserts the same code wheneve

  • Is that a synonym for "software"? The sentence would seem to make sense then.

  • Nice people email me free software samples. I even get more free email now. My computer runs really slow now. I think it's because it can do so much more work now.
  • ...the last few gigs I've worked, there have been little to no restriction on what we could download on our Linux/Windows servers and workstations. We were tasked with a job, and granted the level of trust and discretion needed to get the job done.

    Why would I work at a company that expects me to play the game with my hands tied behind my back?

    As usual, another non-story about Google framed as an earth-moving event.

  • by Bertie (87778) on Wednesday March 19, 2008 @11:32AM (#22795970)
    I also worked at a very big company which let us do this. Not company-wide, just the couple of thousand people that worked where I did, which was probably very similar to Google in terms of the sort of people who would work there. We were considered to be bright enough to stand on our own two feet. We weren't the sort to bother tech support unless it was a problem with, say, networking - applications we'd installed were our problem, and besides that we'd be more likely to know what we were doing with those applications than the average techie. It meant that if we needed a particular piece of software or equipment, we didn't have to wait weeks to get sign-off from God Himself - we went and downloaded it and our manager found the money for it if it had to be paid for. We were trusted not to buy stuff we didn't need, and by and large it worked. Treat people like adults and they'll behave like adults, mostly.

    More than once I got hold of an oldish spare computer and installed Gentoo Linux on it, and the only justification I had for doing so was that Windows got on my nerves. Not much of a business case, but as far as they were concerned I was a big boy and could look after myself, and it was no skin off their nose as long as it didn't take up tech support's time.

    The only thing that made us different from the tied-down masses elsewhere in the company was our level of knowledge about what we were working with. I maintain that the best security system is user education. Obviously that's not to suggest that you should throw caution to the wind, but clued-up people generally won't get you in trouble. So clue them up.

    Right now I'm in a much more locked-down environment and it's incredibly frustrating. Something as simple as connecting to a printer is a nightmare because I have to go through some tech support clown who invariably knows a lot less than I do and bumbles around randomly prodding things till it works. I don't have admin rights to my own machine, and useful things like the command line are blocked. It drives me mad, and it holds me back in my work, but hey, some IT goon has an easier life because of it, so it's all fair enough, right?

    Google is full of smart people, and the people in charge are clearly smart enough to treat them as such. I wish more companies would follow this example.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by KiltedKnight (171132) *
      Not for nothing, but back in its heyday at AOL, you supposedly had some of the best, brightest, and most innovative developers... yet a lot of them were NOT email savvy at all. People would just download and open attachments from random, unknown people without performing a virus scan or anything like that.

      Just because you have some brilliant techies doesn't mean they are all security conscious as well.

  • by bytesex (112972)
    This is /special/ in IT ? Well, I be darned - it's never been different in any way for me, at least.
  • by PigleT (28894) on Wednesday March 19, 2008 @11:48AM (#22796174) Homepage
    The reason this works is because he's a sensible fellow who knows standards-compliance. both in network protocols and data formats, is more important than the mere name of the OS or application issuing them.
    • by BenoitRen (998927)
      I wish they would get the HTML that their search engine outputs standards compliant already. It doesn't even have a DOCTYPE!
  • Quick Story (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Cytlid (95255) on Wednesday March 19, 2008 @11:53AM (#22796246)
    I've actually experienced this type of thing in the last two jobs I've had. Allow me to explain.

      I moved from my job in NY as a System Admin for an ISP. I won't name names, but our major tech we used was Cisco, Solaris, Linux and VMware ESX.

      My family and I moved to SC for the nicer weather ... I landed a job as Sr Network Engineer for an ASP. I thought, ASP, can't be too different. Well 800 miles away, some things are the same, some are different. I'm a command-line, CLI type guy. The ASP is an MS Gold Partner and takes advantage of Citrix. All the network gear is Cisco (which is where me and my team come in). I thought, oh great ... I don't belong here (except for the Cisco stuff). For the record, we do have *some* Linux hosting and colo.

      But I setup a few smallish vmware servers and I'm happy. I have my Linux-in-a-box. I've done a bunch of grepping and typing and scripting and such this morning, and I found some new issues that I didn't see before without seeing the "big picture".

      So back to my point. I'm very picky about the apps I use and whatnot, so it's hard for me to "conform" to an IT ruleset about what can and cannot be run on company machines. The ISP I worked at was very flexible in this manner, for some reason I expect this out of the new job.

      Our business model is we sell these published apps and hosting to our customers. We run a large private MPLS network and connect many smaller places to us. They can run Office 2007 from a website.

      Then it hit me. Things have been getting really optimized in the last year or two, so we're using our own stuff. My office apps "live" in a website. The revelation came that now, when it comes to my laptop (or desktop), I can do whatever I want. Notice this is typically a nightmare for common IT shops, but many of our smaller customers think IT is a pain and will be happy with published apps and thinclients. For someone like me, who is tech-savvy, I can format my machine and install Linux (some of the other guys have already done so). Because there's a Citrix web client for Linux (I use it at home). Involve virtualization in the mix, and our datacenter becomes one giant network, one giant machine that we manage and the apps are just floating around inside. We manage all the security and whatnot, and keep it running.

      So in a way, you really can have it both ways. We're not a Web 2.0 shop, but our method is definitely Another Way to Do It.

  • Last Adopter (Score:5, Insightful)

    by salesgeek (263995) on Wednesday March 19, 2008 @12:02PM (#22796364) Homepage
    IT departments are typically the last adopters of anything. They typically roll up to the CIO, who typically is not a real C level executive. The CIO typically works for the CFO and is an advisory member of the executive committee in most companies. Information Technology generally has two crucial corporate functions: automating accounting functions and managing corporate communication platforms like phones and email. Everything else that happens on a computer - i.e. productivity applications, intranets, etc... are side effects of putting general purpose computers on desks and are secondary functionality. IT Departments have generally claimed fiefdoms over all things computerized so they can have bigger budgets, more resources and are harder to fire and outsource. It's ugly. But true. Most IT innovation starts in some department, and goes like this:
    • Kid in sales writes really cool web app that sells product automagically on MySpace.
    • IT finds out about it, can't integrate it with accounting, tries to kill it.
    • Kid freaks out because someone who is three managers over him is calling him asking what he's doing.
    • Kid's boss freaks out because CIO is calling his employee.
    • Project is killed when Bosses Boss finds out about it because it doesn't make sense to him OR - Bosses Boss intervenes and tells IT to stuff it, and counts money from sales from web app.
    • IT is forced to support web app because CFO now needs to book revenues for month or quarter.
    • Kid is transfered from sales to IT and leaves company one year later to start company that sells MySpace widgets and goes on to become millionaire.
    • by mythosaz (572040)
      Very, very true.

      I work in the IT "automation" department of a company where I help support 30,000 desktops and 2,000 servers. Nearly 5,000 of our desktops now run a shell replacement that was designed only as a way to prevent a small number of machines from ever having access to their printer settings. Someone at the top liked it, and now our tiny widget is a desktop standard.
    • by mrscott (548097)
      When did you work in IT? I am a CIO (in the "C" level sense in that I do not report to the CFO and am a full member of the executive team) and your view of the purpose of an IT department is... interesting and a bit outdated.
      • by salesgeek (263995)
        I have continuously been involved in IT since 1986 in either a vendor, consulting or senior management role, but I've never worked in an IT department. Most often my role has been ramming new technology down the throat of risk and profit adverse technology managers who are busy protecting their precious integration plan, vendor allegiances, security model (usually doesn't work) or sacred cow application, not realizing that they no longer are defining the problems experienced by the corporation.

        Outside of S
  • First, computer and software experts are professionals and not "staff" or "workers" (as long as they know what they are doing). The best way to please a professional is to let them work at home or at their office and carry the work in any way they want at any time they want (as long as this is possible depending on the nature of the work). However, working as an employee means you have to go to a specific place for no apparent reason (teleworking could work just as well) and do the work according to rules

Man must shape his tools lest they shape him. -- Arthur R. Miller

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