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The Decline of '20% Time' at Google 198

Posted by Soulskill
from the focusing-on-the-bottom-line dept.
One of the things Google is known for is giving their employees so-called '20% time' — that is, the freedom to use a fifth of their working hours to pursue their own projects. Many of these projects have directly improved Google's existing products, and some have spawned new products entirely. An article at Quartz on Friday made that claim that 20% time was all but dead at Google, largely due to interference from upper management. Some Google engineers responded, and said that it has essentially turned into 120% time — they're still free to undertake their own projects, but they typically need their whole normal work week to meet productivity goals. "What 20% time really means is that you- as a Google eng- have access to, and can use, Google’s compute infrastructure to experiment and build new systems. The infrastructure, and the associated software tools, can be leveraged in 20% time to make an eng far more productive than they normally would be." An article at Ars makes the case that this is not necessarily a bad thing, because Google has enough good products that simply need iteration now, making the more innovative 20% time less useful. "Google wasn’t hurting for successful products when it started to tout its 20 percent time: off the backs of its pre-IPO services, it earned a market cap of over $23 billion. But if it was a company that wanted to grow and diversify beyond products that were either related to search or derivative of what already existed, it needed more ideas, better ideas, as quickly as possible. Hence, liberal use of 20 percent time made a lot of sense. Now, Google is not only an enormous company of nearly 45,000 employees with a market cap twelve times that of its first IPO ($286 billion), it has a lot of big products that it wants to make work. More than it needs more ideas, it needs to make the ideas it has great."
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The Decline of '20% Time' at Google

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  • Object lesson (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 17, 2013 @04:53PM (#44596097)

    The stock market kills companies.

    • by alen (225700) on Saturday August 17, 2013 @05:08PM (#44596211)

      so why did google go public if its so bad?
      why couldn't there be a geek charity fund to raise $5 billion or so to give out to the original employees to cash out their hard work?

      • Re:Object lesson (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Opportunist (166417) on Saturday August 17, 2013 @05:34PM (#44596413)

        Because money is tempting. Imagine this, there is a LOT of money (use your own definition of LOT) being dangled in front of you with the promise to not take any direct influence in your decisions. Hey, as long as I hold 50%+1 of the company I call the shots, right?

        It usually doesn't take long to realize that those 50-1% hold a LOT of power over you when they can afford losing them and you cannot.

        • Here's The Deal (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Frosty Piss (770223) * on Saturday August 17, 2013 @08:37PM (#44597391)

          But there is something else going on here.

          Google was, a long time ago, a young idealistic company full of people that had drunk the Kool-Aid and were willing to pour out their energy into neat little side projects that one day might make Google greater.

          Times have changed.

          The smart folks at Google percolate their ideas on their own time in secret, and then bail out and start a "start-up" (and then possible sell the idea back to Google).

          The whole "creativity" dynamic has changed at Google. It is still a pool of VERY smart people, but they know better than to give their ideas away for free.

        • by houghi (78078) on Sunday August 18, 2013 @04:05AM (#44598841)

          If you could have Bill Gates' money or solve world hunger, what color would your Ferrari be?

          • ...what color would your Ferrari be?

            Banana.

          • Hmm... need it be world hunger or may I choose my project? I might do without money for some "good deeds", but solving world hunger would possibly be the worst thing that I could bestow on humanity. Or at the very least, the planet that is infested with it.

      • Re:Object lesson (Score:5, Informative)

        by DerekLyons (302214) <fairwater@gmail. c o m> on Saturday August 17, 2013 @07:21PM (#44596939) Homepage

        so why did google go public if its so bad?

        Because they handed out stock options left and right, and ended up with enough people holding enough vested options that the rules said they had to go public. But even, they pulled a fast one - the GOOG traded on the market are lower class shares... with no dividend, ownership, or voting rights. All of higher class shares with all those rights are held by a very small number of people - early Google insiders, investors, and VC's.

        • by Raenex (947668)

          But even, they pulled a fast one - the GOOG traded on the market are lower class shares... with no dividend, ownership, or voting rights.

          This doesn't make any sense. Who would buy a share without the possibility of receiving dividends? You're also wrong about no voting rights, though they did skew the rights 10 to 1 in favor of the Google founder shares. Only very recently were they cleared [reuters.com] to issue a new class of non-voting stock.

      • For the same reason that keeping a pet dragon sounds like an awesome idea while it's young and small, and not so awesome when it's older, way bigger than you and someone forgot to feed it while you were on vacation (gotta feed them properly, or they get aggressive).

        In other words, Google thought it was a great idea, like most young companies...and at first, it was. Then, before it noticed anything, it woke up one day with the NSA sharing its data-center, its geek utopia turned into corporate dystopia, and a

    • Re:Object lesson (Score:5, Insightful)

      by bondsbw (888959) on Saturday August 17, 2013 @05:40PM (#44596447)

      Shareholders want to turn as much profit as they can in as short a time frame as can be done.

      Going public is a great way to slowly kill a good company. Many shareholders don't care where the company is in 10 years; they care about their dollar in one year. When the stocks start on a permanent trend downwards, those shareholders sell and move to the next company that has potential in the near term.

      • by jd2112 (1535857)

        Many shareholders don't care where the company is in 10 years; they care about their dollar in one year.

        If only it were that long term. At best most shareholders care only about where the stock is next quarter. Some only care where it is next week. Some not even that long.

        • by schnell (163007)

          At best most shareholders care only about where the stock is next quarter.

          I hear this a lot on Slashdot but it's just not true (depending on how you define "most"). The majority of publicly traded shares out there are in the hands of large mutual funds and banks. These are absolutely long-term investors - they want as little volatility as possible and they have a strong interest in picking companies that match their investment profile ("growth companies," "low risk companies with dividends," whatever) and sticking with them.

          Day trading individuals and HFT arbitrageurs etc. only c

          • The majority of publicly traded shares out there are in the hands of large mutual funds and banks. These are absolutely long-term investors - they want as little volatility as possible and they have a strong interest in picking companies that match their investment profile ("growth companies," "low risk companies with dividends," whatever) and sticking with them.

            Portfolios allow companies to mix high and low risk companies to create an aggregate. And that's what most of the mutual funds and banks you're talking about do, though the actual names and products are rather complicated mixtures. But your assertion that they only pick companies fitting a certain profile is incorrect; Or that they don't make short-term decisions. It is possible to achieve long term growth through a series of short-term actions. In fact... it's essential.

            It is the difference between a tacti

          • Day trading individuals and HFT arbitrageurs etc. only care about day to day or hour to hour. They may command a lot of attention, but they really aren't a big part of the market

            Wikipedia says HFT was 50% of the overall trading volume in terms of equity in 2012.

            • HFT guys usually go home as close to flat as possible. Even if they are a large portion of the daily trading volume, they have effectively zero long-term ownership, so they don't influence long-term management decisions or valuation for the individual companies they trade.
            • Wikipedia says HFT was 50% of the overall trading volume in terms of equity in 2012.

              Well, duh. High Frequency Trading produces large trading volumes. That's hardly a surprise. The question is, how much of the market they hold? If we assume HFTs trade a holding an average of twice a day (on days when the market is open), and others trade an average of once every six months, we come out that HFTs hold about 0.2% of the market. Not very impressive.

      • by rolfwind (528248)

        But those shareholders don't have real power compared to the long term invested who vote and the big players in the long terms.

    • There are two things wrong with what the article states. The first, is that it goes on and on about how Google just doesn't do it anymore. Which is a clear example of circular reasoning: "We don't need it anymore because we aren't doing it anymore."

      The second thing is the last part of OP's post:

      "More than it needs more ideas, it needs to make the ideas it has great."

      This is a nonsensical statement. You don't "make an idea great". It either is or isn't. You can make a plan or a business great, but ideas, by definition, stand on their own, or not.

      In fact Google is rather in

      • by siride (974284)

        I think the phrase "make a good idea great" means to implement it effectively and come up with closely related good ideas so that the net result of the original good idea is beyond what a baseline, minimal implementation would effect.

        • "I think the phrase "make a good idea great" means to implement it effectively and come up with closely related good ideas so that the net result of the original good idea is beyond what a baseline, minimal implementation would effect."

          It might. But part of my point is that Google just hasn't shown itself to be any damned good at that. Out of maybe 100 "good ideas" that Google has had its hands on over the last 20 years or so (if I sat down with pencil and paper and some old blog posts, I might find that many... that we have known about), it has managed to take maybe 2 or maybe 3 good ideas and run with them. The rest it squandered or actively killed off.

          And those 2 or 3 are already about as developed as they will get. In fact, people

          • by siride (974284)

            I was only picking that one part of your post, since I'm linguistically minded. I don't disagree with any of what you say and it's saddened me that Google has squandered so many great opportunities.

          • by rolfwind (528248)

            Just to nitpick but Google is only 15 years old, not twenty.

            I would agree about other ideas being mature. Gmail was/used to be great in it's simplicity (just like google search was) but they keep adding bells and whistle and stupid shit. I wish I could have both back minus the added bullshit.

    • Addendum: soul-sucking PHBs ruin everything.
    • by hairyfeet (841228)

      Well duh! Just look at MSFT, Ballmer has been shooting the company in the face for the past few years because the Wall Street pundits keep screaming "Apple mobile synergy wharrgarbl" and has blown something like 40 billion in the process while the stock stays flat. The simple fact is that Wall Street is completely broken [youtube.com] thanks to the massive bubble the government has been blowing since the 80s and until that bursts the stock market is worthless as an indicator of value, its just got too much money chasing

    • Actually, the lesson should be that stock prices, and fluctuations thereof, should be taken with a grain of salt; and that while Wall St. is very good at supplying capital, and demanding results, it knows jack shit about actually running a company.

      Let me put it to you this way: are your new business leaders telling you to cut back on buffers / redundant systems for your company? Are these the same people responsible for Wall St. having to resort to 'circuit breakers' and transaction processing (do overs), b

    • by b4dc0d3r (1268512)

      While generally true, how is that observation relevant here?

      Google does not need to pay people 1/5 of their salaries to hack on random projects whetheir offerings are mature, and between android and chromebook they have plenty of actual development on real products.

      They are unlikely to die from this, and if they need to it is easily reinstated.

      Knee jerk much?

    • by Dcnjoe60 (682885)

      The stock market kills companies.

      It's not really the stock market, but the shareholders/board of directors. As long as the company you create is privately held, you get to call the shots. Once it is public, the board of directors calls the shots. Your vision may have been "Don't be evil" theirs is "Make me money". The two don't necessarily coexist. They could, but usually don't.

    • by edibobb (113989)
      How so? The next quarter's revenue is the only thing that matters.
  • Isn't that what the MBAs and metric gurus teach?

    Once again the Excel numbers make the day and if there is a hidden cost or an opportunity cost then it doesn't exist according to the CPA

    • by ILongForDarkness (1134931) on Saturday August 17, 2013 @05:04PM (#44596185)

      What that often translates into is: do stuff we aren't paying you for. Why can't the staff handle their own secretarial needs? Why can't they clean up their own workspace, get their own supplies from storage, install their own software etc etc. We take what was before someone elses full time job and just tack it on to everyone else's day but don't reduce the productivity expectations to compensate.

      • Re:Do more for less (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Billly Gates (198444) on Saturday August 17, 2013 @05:16PM (#44596261) Journal

        What is productivity? How do you define productivity?

        My point is you can work for gmail and do your metrics to hit your spam filtering code. But, what if the next big idea is there that can generate more revenue. Would it then be wise to work on better spam filtering for your gmail users or would it make more sense to fund something that no one has done yet and that Microsoft or Apple will invent and then patent the shit out of instead?

        That was my point. I have worked at companies where they are were sooo process oriented that we just put out fires and no one could ever call out sick or go on vacation or the whole operation would shutdown.

        The good employees left and they had to bring in H1B1 because they were cheaper and would have no quram working 65 hours a week just to remain employed. Work 40 hours a week you were fired for being lazy. No improvements and no say were allowed outside of the directors as we had no time to do anything else. We just put out fires and worked 120% to keep our jobs. That might have worked for the previous CEO to gain his bonus but the company is losing over a 1 billion a year now!

        • Productivity sadly is usually defined as percentage of time where the employee has their ass in their seat doing the job that matches their job description. This is due to in my mind (I have a MMSci degree so am pretty close to being a pointheaded bastard myself) MBA schools obsession with metrics. It works fine when you are building identical widgets and you can clearly see that Bob's 67 a day is much better than Carl's 52. But it falls on its ass when it comes to measuring innovation projects. That guy pi

    • It's a good thing. Google has already defeated Microsoft and Apple, and now is a monopolist itself. Google will eventually need to be defeated itself, so it is fortunate for all of us that that is already happening as it evolves into a less attractive place to work. Giant trees grow in the forest so that less successful trees die in their shade, but eventually rot from inside and fall so that young trees can grow to their full height.

      OK astromods, have at. But it's nothing less than the truth.

      • by jez9999 (618189)

        Google has already defeated Microsoft and Apple

        Yep, that must be why MS and Apple are bankrupt and about to go out of business...

  • Now that they got a product they want to stop looking for new ones. When people move on from android to something else, when browser vendors have a way to search the web without relying on Google and friends etc Google will have no replacement products.

    R&D isn't something that is ever done. You can't just say: we have a product now so lets cut the expense of the engineering department. Your competitors are always looking to leapfrog you or make your entire business obsolete. That is why you hire smart p

    • Now that they got a product they want to stop looking for new ones. When people move on from android to something else, when browser vendors have a way to search the web without relying on Google and friends etc Google will have no replacement products.

      R&D isn't something that is ever done. You can't just say: we have a product now so lets cut the expense of the engineering department. Your competitors are always looking to leapfrog you or make your entire business obsolete. That is why you hire smart people and pay them to keep thinking.

      More like the MBAs dilemma here.

      The problem is traditionally the upper management guys were all engineers and scientists as the MBA program was to teach business skills to non business majors so they could lead companies.

      Today, these institutions are led by cost accountants and Wall Street Financial gurus. The emphasis now is on quarterly profits and crazy ways to get there like firing all the good employees and replacing them with Chinese and cheaper Indian counterparts. Selling your assets which make you

  • bad thing for who? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdo ... org minus author> on Saturday August 17, 2013 @05:03PM (#44596169)

    An article at Ars makes the case that this is not necessarily a bad thing, because Google has enough good products that simply need iteration now, making the more innovative 20% time less useful.

    A change from a work environment where you can spend 20% of your time experimenting with new ideas you have, and 80% working on the "regular" mainline products, to one where you're expected to spend at least 100% of a regular workweek iterating on the "regular" products, seems like a bad thing from the perspective of the engineer at least. Ars seems to be arguing that it's not necessarily a bad thing for Google's stockholders, which is a pretty different question.

    • by Bob9113 (14996)

      ...seems like a bad thing from the perspective of the engineer at least. Ars seems to be arguing that it's not necessarily a bad thing for Google's stockholders, which is a pretty different question.

      Same thing I came in here to say. Ars' argument seems about as on-target as saying, "Warrantless NSA surveillance of all Americans' Internet activity isn't necessarily a bad thing, because the NSA wants to know what you read."

    • Obviously, the correct response for engineers is to do exactly what is required during working hours and nothing more. If there are great ideas, work them out on your own time, cash your earn out units and start a business with some like minded escapees. The MBAs get what they deserve.

      • Then there is the possibility of the "pieces of flair" (from Office Space) dilemma. As in your manager saying "I see you put the minimum number of hours of work here at Google. See Tommy over there? He puts in an extra 15% of work time on special projects. I can't tell you to work for free, but look how enthusiastic Tommy is about his job".

        You become torn between working for free on something that could make Google money or going home at a decent hour. Your decision could cause you to suffer financially by

    • A change from a work environment where you can spend 20% of your time experimenting with new ideas you have, and 80% working on the "regular" mainline products, to one where you're expected to spend at least 100% of a regular workweek iterating on the "regular" products, seems like a bad thing from the perspective of the engineer at least. Ars seems to be arguing that it's not necessarily a bad thing for Google's stockholders, which is a pretty different question.

      What? That Google is moving from innovation towards stagnation? If people are not being paid to innovate most of them are sure as hell not going to do it for free on their own time when they can spend that same time with their families. Google will become a stagnant empire that lives off it's established products just like Microsoft did until the world changes on them and somebody more innovative creeps up on them and steals their thunder.

      • Not to rain on your argument, but given the direction Google's headed in for the last 8 years, I am intensely comfortable with the idea that they should stagnate, and let someone else innovate - hopefully innovate in a direction that serves the people for a change. After all, you'd think that free enterprise is all about serving the interests of customers.
    • An article at Ars makes the case that this is not necessarily a bad thing, because Google has enough good products that simply need iteration now, making the more innovative 20% time less useful.

      A change from a work environment where you can spend 20% of your time experimenting with new ideas you have, and 80% working on the "regular" mainline products, to one where you're expected to spend at least 100% of a regular workweek iterating on the "regular" products, seems like a bad thing from the perspective of the engineer at least. Those engineers at google are getting paid sums way over the standard (even by SF standards.) Not counting all the perks they have, shit, it would be goddamned fucking stupid of them if they were to feel the 20%-reversal is "unfair".

      Ars seems to be arguing that it's not necessarily a bad thing for Google's stockholders, which is a pretty different question.

      Or Google as a whole (stockholders + employees who are getting quite a good compensation package.) A regular employee might find the change a bad thing, but considering everything he/she is getting in return of his employment, that opinion would be extremely subjective and emotional.

      If, OTH, google has matured (or "corrupted" according to some nerdtards) to the point that "discovery" is no longer the company's battle cry, then Ars' argument leans to the side of the objective.

  • by mysidia (191772) on Saturday August 17, 2013 @05:07PM (#44596205)

    Encourage employees to use the 20% time to Innovate within the existing projects; for example, by finding ways to make them better or lower their costs.

    The value of people doing more than their jobs doesn't go away --- they just need to be more focused, in exactly, what those 20% projects are.

    It's also only fair that the benefit of their 20% projects get included in their productivity. If an employee uses their intellectual resources to do something particularly innovative, they should be given an opportunity to reduce their required working hours by 50% with a net increase in pay and benefits, or an opportunity to move from "20% time" to "40% time" working on their own projects.

    That is: the value delivered via the employee's hard work should be shared with the employee fairly. When the employee delivers more value than the average employee; they should be given back more opportunity.

    On the other hand: if their 20% time doesn't win over management with a benefit within a year, perhaps they should get 15% time instead, from then on, until they can do better.

    • Encourage employees to use the 20% time to Innovate within the existing projects; for example, by finding ways to make them better or lower their costs.

      And what you end up with is the 'hell in a handbasket' so many Google products are in. Endless tinkering and "innovation", but no clear direction and rarely are they 'better'.

    • by emt377 (610337)

      Encourage employees to use the 20% time to Innovate within the existing projects; for example, by finding ways to make them better or lower their costs.

      This is already part of their regularly scheduled work. It's easy to sell research and enhancements to an existing product, and there's staff to do it. This is a non-issue.

      It's also only fair that the benefit of their 20% projects get included in their productivity. If an employee uses their intellectual resources to do something particularly innovative, they should be given an opportunity to reduce their required working hours by 50% with a net increase in pay and benefits, or an opportunity to move from "20% time" to "40% time" working on their own projects.

      This is also already the case. If your 20% project gets internal traction it will likely become your 80% job.

      I completely disagree with the notion that the 20% back burner stuff isn't important to Google at this point. In a big organization it's hard to sell ideas without accompanying them with a working prototype. So the 20% researc

      • by mysidia (191772)

        This is already part of their regularly scheduled work. It's easy to sell research and enhancements to an existing product, and there's staff to do it. This is a non-issue.

        If Google's like most companies -- there will be some small closely-knit team maintaining or "owning" each product or project, with a limited world view, unquestioningly following some arbitrarily selected leader (or "boss") who has come up with some cloudy vision for what the product should become that might or might not in real

  • blame steve jobs (Score:3, Interesting)

    by alen (225700) on Saturday August 17, 2013 @05:11PM (#44596231)

    a few months before he died he had dinner with sergey to mentor him. he said you have too much crap that no one cares about and google needs to focus on what brings in the cash. that's when they started their purge of anything that doesn't make money

    same with facebook steve. he had dinner with him as well to tell him what he thought was wrong with facebook

    • a few months before he died he had dinner with sergey to mentor him.

      Considering that they're competitors, I find this hard to believe.

      • by alen (225700)

        nope its true, there were some news articles about it at the time
        successful people mentor lots of other people they believe in, even if they work for competitor. steve jobs was mentored by a guy who worked for HP

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      a few months before he died he had dinner with sergey to mentor him. he said you have too much crap that no one cares about and google needs to focus on what brings in the cash. that's when they started their purge of anything that doesn't make money

      same with facebook steve. he had dinner with him as well to tell him what he thought was wrong with facebook

      It is absolutely amazing how half the people on this forum have managed to convince themselves that every single thing that is wrong with the tech industry is also, somehow, Steve Jobs' fault.

      • every single thing that is wrong with the tech industry is also, somehow, Bill Gates' fault.

        FTFY

        for real, Steve Jobs is overrated as an 'tech innovator' I'll grant you...I could go on all day about it...

        but there's no evidence that Jobs' legacy is as bad as you say...IMHO it is the reverse...

        Jobs' wasn't an engineer. He was a marketer. We make a serious mistake when we look at major decisions Steve Jobs made and treat them as some sort of pattern for emulation.

        He was hard headed and understood, as many sale

  • Everyone in a position of being judged wants to show that they're productive compared to others. Without a strong force to oppose the progression towards everyone doing everything they can to look busy, the trend in every business is to force everyone towards a saturation point of perceived effort.

    That tends to include things like more time filling out checklists, more time in more kinds of meetings, "peter principle"-style promotions, increasingly redundant cross-checks with everyone your work touches, an

  • In most other jobs 20% time would be better described as, "Use 20% of your time to come up with ways the company can make more money off of you". It is interesting how at Google it takes on a different meaning.

  • Attack of the MBAs (Score:5, Interesting)

    by anvilmark (259376) on Saturday August 17, 2013 @05:23PM (#44596319)

    The more MBAs in your organization the less innovation you will have.
    They don't think in terms of success through better (or more diverse) products, only in squeezing maximum efficiency from everything - Marx would applaud them.

    • by DigiShaman (671371) on Saturday August 17, 2013 @10:10PM (#44597787) Homepage

      MBAs are extremely important in few numbers. But once you have entire departments full of them, they become parasitic by short-changing the company in order to make themselves and their position have a sense of value.

      Maybe someone with an MBA can show us an MBA ratio bell curve graph with regard to company productivity. =)

    • by swillden (191260)
      That's one explanation, but it doesn't hold up well at Google, because all engineering managers are engineers, all the way up to (and including) the CEO. Here's another, simpler explanation: The article is wrong.
  • by dkegel (904729) on Saturday August 17, 2013 @05:32PM (#44596387) Homepage

    The original report of "For many employees, it has become too difficult to take time off from their day jobs to work on independent projects." can be explained well like this: people who are below average productivity in their team can't spare the time to work on 20% projects.

    I don't think this is a harsh thing; it's just a fact of life.

    By the way, the Google version of stack ranking (if I recall correctly from my time there) is something like "If you're a manager, and there's a guy on the team who isn't being very productive, make sure he knows about the problem, so he can do something about it."

    Also not a harsh thing.

    Google doesn't want to become a Cisco, where all the good ideas come from buying up little companies. I suspect that people of above average productivity at Google still have plenty of freedom to try experiments 20% time.

    What has changed a bit is that since the mantra of the company became "Features, not products", those 20% experiments are almost always going to involve adding features or other improvements to existing products, not wholly new products.

    And that's ok, too. There is a whole lot of room to add features and make things better under the hood.

    • by hibiki_r (649814)

      Depends on management: You can easily swamp the most productive developers just fine by just assigning them more tasks than to everyone else. Whether you have extra time for side projects or not comes down to how much sandbagging you do. I've seen extremely good developers that, when facing a project they were uninterested in, would hand completely spurious estimates that make sure they don't work for more than 4 hours a week on their official project, and spend the rest of the time on other things. I've al

      • by dkegel (904729)
        Are you talking about Google, or some other company? I don't remember anything like that going on at Google when I was there. The managers I observed were quite levelheaded and didn't assign too much work. The only real impatience I saw was when one product had too much latency visible to the end user. That resulted in a whole lot of impatience... and a new level of vigilence against latency creep. But that was a good thing.
  • Work harder for less. It's the American Way.
  • by mark_reh (2015546) on Saturday August 17, 2013 @05:50PM (#44596503) Journal

    Motorola in 1981 they used to say "work smarter, not harder", we got comp time off for overtime worked, etc. After a while it became "work harder", and the comp time off went away, and overtime was expected with no compensation. A little while later it became "work!", followed by "work, goddamit!" where you were viewed unfavorably if you used company time to take a leak.

    The bean counters always win...

  • by another_larson (1684820) on Saturday August 17, 2013 @05:57PM (#44596521)
    I work for Google. 20% time is unpopular, undertaken by single-digit percentages of engineers. Despite that, the message coming down from management is generally positive.

    My sense of the issue is that a lot of engineers are spooking at shadows, worried about their performance reviews if they spend 80% of their time on their teams' main business rather than 100%. The solution to this, as far as I am concerned, is to make sure there is someone who is willing to stand up and say positive things about your project at review time. Since Google has an intricate system of peer review, that should be enough.

    And if you can't find _one_ person who thinks your project is a good idea, take some time to figure out what you are hoping to accomplish before continuing.
    • by CBravo (35450)

      Since Google has an intricate system of peer review

      Can you shortly tell more about how that works?

    • by swillden (191260)

      I also work for Google, and the parent reflects what I see as well.

      Relatively few engineers have a 20% project, but it's really their choice. Management is supportive of 20% time. FWIW, of the engineers who sit near me, 40% have 20% projects (including me). On my team, 100% have 20% projects -- but there are only two of us.

  • My last job was kinda odd this way, they were so frightened of me spending some extra time on my actual project to ensure it works in cases of bad input and to simplify some code that they laid me off. Of course, I was a bit cavalier about ensuring management backing.

    I would call this a sign of the times, I currently work for some guy for free because he has an interesting project and yet I still don't want to fool around with stuff that needs doing but isn't highest priority. This is a startup and needs so

  • ...you ruin projects with a dull blade. Because you cannot learn on the job (nobody should be reading the manual for a gun while in the trenches), the best thing company can do is provide this 20% time so the company can grow qualitatively as well as quantitatively.
  • by pongo000 (97357) on Saturday August 17, 2013 @06:32PM (#44596679)

    The other day a Google tech recruiter (not a headhunter) contacted me about an interview at Google. This after I turned down a second interview with them seven years ago. Yes, seven years ago. It got me to thinking: Is Google that desperate for qualified employees that they are having to dig that deep into their interview files to find talent? After doing some research, it seems as though they want to interview me for a "technical sales engineering" position or some such thing. Still, this article and the fact that Google is searching their archives for help seems to point to a dwindling supply of technical types in the market.

    And since I'm a few years older than Vince Vaughan, I seriously doubt I'd quite fit in anymore. Say what you want about The Internship, but Google's imprimatur [wikipedia.org] was all over it.

    • by Animats (122034) on Sunday August 18, 2013 @02:01AM (#44598571) Homepage

      The other day a Google tech recruiter (not a headhunter) contacted me about an interview at Google. This after I turned down a second interview with them seven years ago.

      Weird. I had almost an identical experience last week. A Google tech recruiter sent me messages via both email and LinkedIn. He'd been looking at my technical web sites. I'm not interested; it's been years since I had to work for someone else. But I called the guy. It really was a Google recruiter. I hadn't heard from Google in about five years. They must be going through their back files.

    • by swillden (191260)

      And since I'm a few years older than Vince Vaughan, I seriously doubt I'd quite fit in anymore.

      Google isn't so young any more. I'm 44 and I fit right in. Some of the engineers I work with are in their 50s and 60s. There are also plenty of younger engineers, of course, but I'd say the median age is around 35, at least in my neck of the woods.

    • by laffer1 (701823)

      This isn't weird at all. Google is probably like any other company. They search linkedin and other sites for interesting candidates for a position and talk to them. They may not have even seen you in the system that far back. Your views on Google may have changed in 7 years. There are many reasons they might consider talking to you again.

  • "because Google has enough good products that simply need iteration now,"

    Actually no, Google has many good products that are becoming worse due to fiddling and iteration. Some things should be left ALONE. If you came into my house and fiddled with the layout of the buttons on my microwave, eventually I'm going to break your fingers. This needs to occur to some of the 'fiddlers' at Google right about now.
    STOP

  • So essentially google retroactively downgraded the status of a majority of its workforce to mere peons.

    Welcome to corporate bureaucracy Engies. Not surprised. You can only have so many "chiefs" and "innovators" on the payroll. They probably overfilled positions or used the title to attract people who were overqualified to apply.

    Or the economy is doing so bad that it artificially filled low level positions with people more qualified causing them to be hired at incorrect rates. Because believe it or not peopl

  • by atomicxblue (1077017) on Saturday August 17, 2013 @08:56PM (#44597477)
    Google is moving more towards hiring temporary employees. As a contractor, I wasn't eligible for the 20% time.
  • by jellybear (96058) on Saturday August 17, 2013 @09:28PM (#44597625)

    Even if Google doesn't "need" new ideas right now and execution is more important, once they get rid of 20% time and it disappears from the corporate culture, it will be VERY difficult to bring back. I worked at a place where they tried to promote 20%. It never gained traction because of management's inability to reallocate the 20% from pre-existing tasks. Some day when Google is in need of brilliant ideas, they will probably regret this move.

  • It would be totally cool, and I am not sure the 20% consisted of this, but let the employees get together and use the 20% to fund projects that are bigger in scale. I wonder if Google has a process where an employee can submit a plan at a low level, then have it work its way up management, who then decides if a team will be created to work on that project. I would hate to see Google just giving its employees "goals" once a project is assigned and not based on the fear of being a slacker. Maybe an employee's
  • by Anonymous Coward

    The reasons for the decline of 20% time are valid: Google has a huge number of products, it's not clear the the company is best served by spinning of many new ones when it can improve what it has.

    On a personal level it might be rewarding, but I don't think it's a big factor in every employee's decision. I am about to start working at Google and I'm not sure if I will actually use my 20% time because the projects I will be working on for my main job are already extremely interesting and varied. Not hav

  • by gestalt_n_pepper (991155) on Sunday August 18, 2013 @09:30AM (#44599647)

    The typical slow degenerative death of great companies in the USA is almost always caused by bean counters seeking "efficiency." To MBAs and accountants, if can't be seen as a number on a spreadsheet, it doesn't exist. What's behind the numbers is just magic that can be safely ignored.

    Until the rot is too far gone and the ship sinks, but the rats can always find another ship. Hi ho!

  • by Maudib (223520) on Sunday August 18, 2013 @01:29PM (#44601069)

    From what I have seen and heard from Google engineers (and I know quite a few) its alive and well. Many spend in excess of 50% of their time on 20% time projects. They have some legit related complaints though.

    (1) The OKR and promotions process is extremely time consuming.
    (2) The peer review process is even worse. They often state that every 3 months, they lose 1-2 weeks dealing with reviews.
    (3) Many teams are weighed down by far too many people that have never worked outside of Google, so they have no idea about real world issues or how the rest of the world needs to interact with them. Man projects get derailed or delayed by absurd unnecessary excursions led by very smart but naive 25yo kids that are somehow level 5 or 6.

    The end result is not that 20% time projects are suffering, but that actual projects are suffering. Engineers get frustrated and then use 20% time projects to switch teams.

    To be honest, many of the best people I know there cant wait to leave or already have.

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