Monday, August 20, 2012

I'm Feeling Lucky: The Confessions of Google Employee Number 59

I'm Feeling Lucky: The Confessions of Google Employee Number 59
Author: Douglas Edwards
Genre: Business | Memoir | Non-fiction | Technology
Release Date: January 1st, 2011

I'm Feeling Lucky' is the story of the marketing director who led the charge to humanize what was otherwise a faceless search company that eventually grew to become the foremost industry leader.  Google as perceived by the public, with its oft-repeated mantra; 'Don't Be Evil' was due to the effort of one man, who strived to shape user perception through sheer word of mouth, partly because the Google Founders Larry and Sergey were too cheap to spend millions on marketing firms and partly to legitimize the public perception of Google as a "good" company who genuinely cares about its users. What better way to help spread that "natural branding" than through crowd sourcing and word of mouth?

I'm Feeling Lucky' starts from Douglas Edwards' experience joining Google in 1999 and ends when he finally leaves shortly after Google's IPO, when he finds that the company he helped shape no longer needed him. It's a truly profound and insightful look into the journey of the Search Giant from its early days cobbling together hundreds of cheap, disposable servers to power its search, to its eventual dominance because of its superior search algorithms that actually helped the user find what they were looking for, instead of trying to jack up advertisers' paid ads into the results like Overture (formerly known as GoTo) and Inktomi were doing. In fact, those two former juggernauts were eventually driven extinct because they could not compete with Google which continuously strived to bring relevant results to its search.  Larry and Sergey fought the entire time against paid ads, which they saw as being "evil" due to its misleading nature. They believed that if not done right, it could lead to Google selling out their soul and becoming "evil". They did not want to create another Microsoft.

Larry and Sergey were major topics in the book, not only because of their brilliance and farsighted vision of the future (so much so that they pretty much rejected any suggestion that went against their vision, and which later circumstances and success verified the validity of their foresight) but due to the fact that they rejected much of our narrator, Douglas Edwards' suggestions on how to shape the public image of Google. Douglas came from a creative background, a rare individual in a company full of technical engineers. He was also a lot older than the engineers in their twenties that populated the company, who had never worked a day in their life prior to joining the startup. This, along with their brilliance (most of them were Stanford Graduates) was what led them to consider new and untested ideas that made industry veterans like Douglas cringe and cry, "But it's too risky! It goes against everything we've been taught". This built-in mentality through decades of work experience was not an asset, rather than a detriment for a Googler. Douglas had to relearn everything just to fit in at the company and the early pages of the book were full of his complaints that nobody was doing or following his suggestions, and in fact they usually did the opposite. He eventually got over that phase once he learned to move at their speed rather than the old outdated mode of thinking that he brought from his old job. Larry and Sergey, along with their engineer cohorts were naive visionaries. They had no concept of failure or of something being out of bounds for not conforming to the tried-and-tested norm. They dared to dream, and dream big. Even though the Search Market was cornered by Inktomi at the time, they believed that their budding search engine had what it took to beat out the rest. They believed in helping users find information. They believed that everything should be done as efficiently as possible and that Search would help bring about that ideal.

"Efficiency, Frugality, Integrity. I would suppose if you had stitched that onto a flag, most Googlers would have saluted."

That phrase pretty much sums it all up. That's what they stood for in the early days when Douglas was still at the company. It's what made them so successful early on, that, and the tenacity to keep churning out great products that actually had value and were useful instead of the crap you see nowadays with purely intangible e-products that are time-wasters instead of efficiency-boosters.  It's why their stock value jumped into the hundreds instead of plummeting to the ground after the IPO like a certain social media giant with all its hype and no substance.

I can't recall how many times I use Google a day, but it's probably the most visited and by far the most useful site on the internet. It's where I go to find stuff I need, articles to read up on and answers to my questions when I need them and nobody else around can give me the info I need. My email goes through Gmail, I write up essays and articles just like this one every day on Google Docs or host them there as backups on Google Drive. Aside from Microsoft, Google is most useful to me for boosting productivity and getting things done.

Facebook, Twitter, Zynga and all that lame crap?  They're black holes of productivity. It's gotten to a point where their founders and chief engineers have gotten together to discuss the negative effects of spending so much time using their products. Yes, you've read that right. After making billions off of their users, they've finally decided to slow down and look at the bad, bad things they've done to millions of people who are addicted to their products. They've got money in the bank so maybe it's time to reflect? Naaah. It's probably just a PR stunt. They're still evil.

If you're looking for an amazing insider's view of how Google came to be, including all the ups and downs and the pressure of working inside one of the world's top companies, while still being accessible to the masses, this is the book for you. It's an incredible insight on how dreaming big, incredible planning and vision can help bring about the rise of one of a Giant.

Overall: 9/10 (5 Stars)