Douwe Osinga's Blog: 2011

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Copyright and Shutting up political opposition

A lot has been made of the tension between the US government on the one hand wanting to protect Internet freedom, but on the other hand being open to shutting down sites that are accused of helping copyright infringement. It makes for a nice addition to the toolkit of suppressing free speech within a legal society.

Let's say I am an oppressive regime with some pesky dissidents who are blogging about things I'd rather keep secret. Or maybe they're a semi religious organization that I suspect of having political ideas. Inside the country it's easy to make sure they won't find a host, but they'll just find a blogging platform elsewhere. Sure, you can build up a huge firewall to filter this content, but that's expensive, leaky and doesn't stop people from outside of your country to read the slander.

Intellectual Property to the rescue! The first step is to create a financial claim against your opponents. This is already a popular tool to stop opposition. Tax fraud or libel are popular tricks, but huge fines for political crimes would work too. Having made sure your opponents can't pay up, you seize the assets you're after: their trademark and copyrights.

Now you can legally shut them up. And not just in your own country: with damages up to 150 thousand dollar per copyright infringement it can even be quite profitable. Seizing the trademarks helps you stop the opposition of operating under their own name even in other countries.

It's not without precedent. Scientology has of course for a long time used copyright to shut up critics, but the state of Bavaria has been using copyright to keep Hitler's book Mein Kampf out of bookshops since forever and will presumably do that until the copyright expires in 2015.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

On the silliness of visas


A few weeks ago we decided to go to India; I feel cheated out of a summer by this last European august, so a bit of beach in Goa and some meeting of old friends would help see us through rainy November just marvellously.

India is one of those countries that requires you to get a visa before arrival and hasn't quite copied Australia's easy completely online procedure. I had hear that it might take a bit of time, so 10 days before the trip we went down to the Indian Visa place in Berlin.

It was harder than I thought. From the need of having 2x2 inch sized color pictures that can only be taken in the Visa Building, to the fact that the embassy doesn't recognise my residency in Berlin making me have to travel to the Netherlands and the demand of a declaration by my employer saying I had applied for vacation and received permission to the fact that the procedure can take anything from between 1 day and two weeks, this is not a very good illustration of Fabulous India.

And it makes you wonder. Doesn't India want tourists? Why would they need to know in which army my grandfather has served if I only want to come and spend money in their country?

But then you check the Dutch Embassy and look at what is required from an Indian wanting to travel to Europe. It is worse. Non-refundable tickets, all hotels pre-booked and proof of means is the start. An employer declaration is also needed. And you better make copies of all documents, the embassy will not provide.

So maybe the Indians are playing tit-for-tat. Either way, these non-sense rules seem to be based on a rather outdated view of the world where India (and China I suppose) are thought of as poor countries in need of aid rather than tomorrow's superpowers. When you ask China to help bail out Greece and when an Indian company is the largest industrial employer in the UK, it doesn't seem like such a good idea to make it hard for business people from those countries to visit.

The only thing Greece and Italy have more than debts is tourist attractions. Meanwhile at the other side of the planet there is an exploding Chinese middle class eager to start traveling. I would say, free Schengen visa with each Euro rail ticket purchased! The other two members of the BRIC club, Russia and Brazil might have less people, but arguably are more connected to Europe.

Less bail-out money needed, easier travel to India, it would certainly work for me. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Bye bye Google Labs, hello Triposo Labs

A few weeks ago Google announced it would be shutting down Labs. I had been meaning to blog about this for a while, since I have been a fan of Labs even before I joined Google. Labs was one of the key elements in the Grand Story of how innovation at Google works. Single engineer spends his 20% time to implement a new idea, launches it on labs after which it proofs itself in the market place and is added to the list of successful Google products.

When I started at Google in 2004 this model was already outdated. I built the news bit of Google trends in 20% and this was subsequently launched on labs, but only in the context of a larger project; as a rule things launched on labs were built by fully staffed teams. More and more labs became a marketing thing; something to point at to prove continuous innovation at Google. Also since Google products typically remain in beta for a long time, the company needed a different label for products that might not be quite ready. Labs more and more became that label.

Not everybody agreed and there was a lot of grumbling about how hard it was to launch new stuff. As a reaction, individual products like GMail, Youtube, Maps and Search launched their own labs that allowed for the launching of experimental features . Soon another effort came under way to make it a lot easier to launch experiments on labs by using standard components like AppEngine. After Wave got canceled, me, pamela and tirsen got together and built Shared Spaces that way in our 20% time and launched in on Labs.

And now labs is going to die. No doubt this has to do with the founders desire to focus on Big Problems. Like I wrote elsewhere, I am skeptical you can get a grip on the Big Problems without starting small; Labs seemed like a good place to start small. Bits of Shared Spaces reappeared in the Hangouts of Google+. Last week Google announced also the closing of Slide, another bit of the empire meant to experiment. All signs point to that in Larrys new Google innovation is top-down rather than bottom-up.

Enough history. Google Labs might be gone, but I am happy to announce Triposo Labs. We collect data from all over the web and use clever algorithms to produce travel guides. Obviously before we get something working we play around a lot with that data. Quite often we hit upon something that is interesting, but maybe not immediately applicable, but if they make us go, ooh, that's cool, why not share it with the world?

The first experiment we're publishing, tracks the development of the wikipedia on a world map. Each geocoded article is plotted in order of appearance showing how the Wikipedia initially focussed on the US and partly on Europe and later spread to cover the world.

So if you're bored, go checkout Wikigrowth

Sunday, August 7, 2011

On being homeless while launching a start up

In the last few months I've founded a company and put together a great team. Together we've launched various iterations of our product and raised an angel round. That this all happened without Triposo having a physical office anywhere is in these enlightened days maybe not that surprising. That it happened without me having a place to live maybe a little more.

Rather than finding first a new place to live, me and my wife left Sydney with a single fare ticket to San Francisco, a general idea to keep moving east and a whole bunch of luggage. We left Sydney early June, from September we'll be living in Berlin. This blog post describes some of the things I've learned in the process.

Charge!
Living off mobile devices means carrying around a lot of batteries that could be low. While trying to put together our angel round I asked this guy with some experience when you ask a potential investor whether he'll invest. "You always ask", he said. I'm not sure about that, but when you are a digital nomad surely the rule is, you always charge.

Most devices charge through USB, so you can make your laptop your charging hub. Finding outlets is a continuous adventure, but most places seem to have them close to the ground, presumably for vacuuming. Also get an outlet-doubler; that way when you find that outlet but somebody else got there first, you can just share.

Connecting... connecting...
The idea of techno nomads working on their laptops from whatever venue that will provide them with Internet in return for you ordering a steady supply of double espressos is romantic but in practice not yet a global reality. In San Francisco it works reasonably well, but in Sydney for example, not a lot of cafes offer free wifi or wifi at all. In Europe, you often get a code with a purchase of a drink that is only valid for 30 minutes. Two double espressos an hour will make you feel distinctly jittery.

It's probably better to get a (pre-paid) 3G card and treat the wifi as a bonus. Set up tethering (the networks don't like it, but it works for me) and you can take the 50 dollar a night deal on the hotel even if they charge you 19.99 a day for wifi. Lobbies of bigger hotels often have free Internet even if their rooms don't. On airports camping out just outside the lounges you can often hitch a ride on their Internet.

Lugging luggage
Living out of a suitcase means you have to carry that suitcase with you. After a while, you really start to see the attraction of a shopping cart. If you move hotels, there is always the time between check-out (generally around 11am) and when you can check in to the next (around 3pm). On top of it all, the airlines have become a lot stricter; when we moved to India we were at least 20kg over the limit each; these days airlines always seem to weigh your luggage; both hand and normal (of course this also keeps the growing of luggage somewhat in check).

Best of course is to follow the old adagium to take twice the money and half the luggage you think you need. Hotels will usually keep your luggage for the day - if that fails, the cloak room of museums are good alternatives. Mailing luggage ahead is cheaper than paying the airlines overweight fee.

It's time consuming
Not having a home takes a lot of time. Especially if you want to work more than a full time job also. We generally do standups at 9am (over Skype), though this depends rather a lot on your time zone. After that, you have to check out, find a suitable coffee shop with decent wireless, find a lunch place, travel to the next place and check in again, you have to scramble to put sizeable blocks of work in your day.

Sticking to a schedule is the best way to fight this, though schedules are easier to keep in a corporate environment. Working on the train is nice though. 3G tends to only work on the stations so you have automatic little Internet breaks and leave Twitter alone the rest of the time. Working from a place through DeskWanted costs a little money, but creates a bit of office discipline.

Living like a local
The nicest thing of living and working on the road is that you get to experience a lot of places if not quite like a local then certainly not just as a tourist. Figuring out a daily schedule to get work done, staying in airbnb apartments that let you do your own cooking, it's all more living than sightseeing.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Crossing the US

The last two weeks of May I was in Silicon Valley. It was very inspiring and we had a great series of meeting with the sort of people that the bay area is filled with: top class engineers, daring
entrepreneurs and angels who are willing to invest in great ideas and great people. And I met up of course with a great number of great friends (the first group and the last group overlap considerably of course) - when it comes to the Google Zurich Office Oscar Wilde was certainly right when he said "It's an odd thing, but anyone who disappears is said to be seen in San Francisco"

We had two weeks before we were expected in New York City so me and my wife did the honorable thing. We took the train. It was an amazing 3300 mile ride that took me from San Francisco, to Denver, to Chicago and from there to DC, Baltimore and finally New York. Amtrak is a lot better than most Americans think though that isn't saying much. The trains do usually run late, but if you book sleepers, the food is included and the food isn't too bad even.

Another great thing are the lounge cars where you sit and do a little coding on your laptop while enjoying the amazing scenery of the Rocky Mountains and the slightly less exciting Great Plains. And every time the train slowly rolled into the station of a city we'd like to visit, I would build a Triposo Travel Guide and put it on my phone.

A great opportunity to use the guides we are building in the wild, and see if they are actually any good. To be clear, we've done a lot of testing with our guides in the wild, but more often than not you end up testing the guide in a city that you know quite well. Which is good, because you immediately spot the errors. But what you do miss is that unique feeling you get when you get of the train in a city you have never set foot before. The feeling of not having the first clue where to go and nothing to rely on but your phone and Triposo.

The good news is: it works. Triposo tells you where to go, has all the background info on the sights, has a great selection of restaurants and the offline map even makes sense when you have roaming - in many places it's just quite a bit faster.
The real good news is of course, that this trip inspired me. Here are a few things I guess I always knew, but that become even more clear during the trip I took across the USA.

Maps are crucial
I've loved maps all my life, but when you travel a map is a dire necessity. You want a fast map. You want to see where you are and what way you are looking. You want to be able to zoom in so deep you can see the cracks in the pavement. And you want all of that offline. Our
maps do work offline, but on the other points they need some extra attentions. So we're going to invest in this. To make our maps better, faster and more complete.

Less is more
Talking about complete: in Chicago Triposo had so much information, I had trouble finding out where to go. Every other tall building in the windy city had a nice description, but when you have under 48 hours, you're not that interested in all that. You want to know where to go -
and leave the rest.
The hard nut to crack is that the background information on every single skyscraper (and a bio on the architect) needs to be in there, but only when you need it. A nice UX challenge of course. If you have specific ideas, send us an email - we could do with a talented designer to help us out.

Sightseeing is not about the sights
The best way to enjoy Denver, especially when you have limited time is just to walk around the parks and streets and look at things from the outside. Maybe take in one museum, but other than that, just explore.
It would be great if you could just ask your guide book, I have 6 hours, I am here, tell me in which direction to walk so I get to see some cool stuff. Right now Triposo has the sights, but you still need to do too much planning yourself.

We will never be done
The world is such an amazing place and there's something to be seen in every nook and cranny. We'll give it our best shot to present all that information to you in a way that helps you decide where to go. But we'll never be done. We will keep having new ideas on how to improve.

Friday, May 13, 2011

If Google is the anti-Microsoft and Facebook is the anti-Google...

Karl Marx' Dialectical Materialism might have gone somewhat out of fashion, but in this blog post I'd like to make the case that it is more or less applicable to the evolution of tech companies. Marx took from Hegel that the internal tensions in an idea lead to an opposite idea, but applied it to the material world. So the ancient society gives way to its opposite, feudalism, which turns into its opposite, capitalism, which will turn into its opposite, socialism.

IBM
Big Blue was the first king of the then called computer industry. From the first commercial computers in the fifties all the way through their wildly successful series 360, IBM successful beyond compare. IBM dominated the industry to such an extent that they called the other computer companies the 7 dwarfs. IBM was a consensus oriented, management driven company who saw hardware as its true product. It wasn't until the PC revolution arrived in full that a new contender for the crown stepped up.

Microsoft
Microsoft came into its own as IBMs sidekick in that revolution, providing the Operating System for the IBM PC, but by providing the MS-DOS also to the clone builders, Microsoft was at the same time responsible for destroying IBM's supremacy in the PC world. Microsoft was the exact opposite of IBM: a market driven software company that would do whatever to win. IBM's natural base was the mainframe, Microsoft's mantra a PC on every desk. And no later than OS/2's humiliating failure to gain traction against Windows 95, it was clear that tech had a new king.

Google
And what a king it was. Microsofts dominance seemed so complete and their policies so aggressive that in May 1998 the US Department of Justice and 20 US States filed a suit for abuse of monopoly, almost exactly 8 months after google.com started serving traffic.
Google again was the anti-Microsoft. Engineering driven, rather than market driven, with "don't be evil" as its slogan. Google delivered its products as ad supported free web services, rather than selling installable software for PCs. By the summer of 2005, it was clear that even though Google still had a long way to overtake Microsoft in profits let alone turnover, Google was the new center of gravity for technology.

Facebook and beyond
Many have suggested Facebook is the new king in waiting. Fittingly, Facebook started up in the valley just around the time when Google prepared for IPO. Facebook is an anti-Google company; where Google's engineers are computer scientisty who want to solve hard problems and think that serious software is written in serious languages like C++ and maybe Java, Facebook's hackers will do whatever makes things work and think PHP works just fine. Google is about the algorithm and doesn't really get social.

The genetics of companies
Then again, Google is also the anti-Yahoo, focussing on ranking vs hand optimized, trying to deliver one answer quickly and to get the user somewhere else as quickly as possible, rather than offering everything the user might need. And Twitter is the anti-Facebook.

Analysts often talk about the DNA of companies; if so then founders and early employees are the carriers of that DNA. They bring ideas of how a company should run from practices they admire or hate in existing companies, especially if they've worked for those companies. In the early days of the company the culture is formed by merging the parent genes and often flipping bits. This company DNA in turn is imprinted on new employees. When these employees leave to start new companies, the cycle is completed.

Triposo

In my new venture we build travel guides for mobile devices. Since we have two ex-googlers on board it shouldn't surprise anybody we derive some of our DNA from Mountain View:
  • We think information is something to be organized, not owned. So our travel guides are built automatically out of content that is available under an open license. Once we get to the point where our users can correct our data, we'll make every attempt to share those corrections back with the community.
  • We think that computers are better at ranking than humans even if they're editors. Like a friend remarked: Triposo tries to do to Lonely Planet what Google did to Yahoo.
  • Free lunch! Well, we haven't really established that, but I like it. In fact we had free lunches at Oberon in Amsterdam before Google was founded.
Some genes of course have flipped and make us an anti-Google of sorts:
  • Google's products are web services that might work on mobile devices. Our travel guides are mobile apps that work even better if there is an internet connection.
  • We fear overengineering as a thread to agility, while Google tends to think that real solutions come with many layers.
  • Google doesn't talk about products that haven't launched yet. We believe that talking to outsiders about a good idea can make it great.
It's going to be interesting to see how things will develop.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Leaving Google - part 3

This is the third post in a three post series about me leaving Google. If you missed it, the first part is Why not to leave Google, the second part is about Why to leave Google Anyway. This one is about what I am going to after leaving.

Way before...
In the time many now call the first dot-com boom, me and my brother where traveling in Central Asia. Seeing how everybody was carrying a Lonely Planet, we were speculating that the travel-guide-as-a-book must have had its longest time. The web filled with stories from actual travelers surely would take over soon. So we came home and started world66.com, a wiki type travel guide. Our plan was to do this on the web for a while, but quickly move on to mobile devices, since there was a lot of talk how this was going to be the new thing. Fast 3G connections would replace dial up internet and WAP was going to bigger than HTML ever was. We even built a bunch of PalmOs travel guides and offered them for sale.

World66 did ok, but the mobile bit never happened. We sold the company to Internet Brands. My brother went off to run Oberon and I traveled the world with Google. But this itch that better travel guides were needed remained.

Enters the iPhone
Things started to change of course once Apple came out with their phone. Then Android came. Then the iPad. And now the tablet clones are coming. These devices aren't built per se for the next generation travel guides, but they'll do quite nicely indeed. So about a year ago, we started to experiment. We started by taking 7 different datasets available under free licenses like the Creative Commons and mixing them up. Wikitravel and World66 have nice general coverage of the world when it comes to travel, but they generally don't know where things are exactly. Open Street Maps has that information, but lacks the depth that Wikipedia can provide. TouristEye has a fresh look on new places. Dmoz and ChefMoz have been around for a while but still have a large set of businesses and restaurants.
Throw in some crafty Python scripts and let it stew for a while and a travel guide for the world rolls out. From this, with a bit of hand work we cut city guides for major destinations and launched them for both Android and iOs. Because of the Open Licenses we can keep all the data on the device so they work even where there is no Internet connection. Check them out and see where we are.

But that's not it

The picture below on the left is a travel guide from 1870 for Switzerland. The picture on the right is a Lonely Planet guide for the iPhone. Nothing much has changed. Murray's Handbook advises you that servants can be brought for free on a train and the Lonely Planet might have something on where free Wifi is to be had, but essentially it is still listings of things to see interspersed with general observations.







In the next months, we'll be rolling out a travel guide for mobile devices that actually takes advantage of being on a device and isn't just a straight forward port of a book. We have some great ideas that we think will make life on the road a little better. Some no doubt are things you have wondered about yourself:
  • If my phone knows it'll be sunny today, but rainy tomorrow, why can't it tell me to go to the park now, and leave the museum for the next day? When I look at the museum page on Monday, why can't it list the museums that are closed on Monday last?
  • If I tell my guide what I like in Barcelona, shouldn't it be able to tell me what I would probably like in Prague?
  • I like a coffee around 11AM. My guide should be able to learn that and when I take it out of my pocket around that time show me a little message saying "there's a great coffee place just 200 meters from here".
You get the idea.

So Triposo

We're a team of four. Me, the already mentioned brother (Richard), another brother of mine (Vincent) and Jon Tirsen, another Ex-Googler. You can check out our website, though since we're a mobile first company, you'll probably learn more from our apps. Drop me a line at douwe@triposo.com if you want to share ideas, express enthusiasm or collaborate. I'll be traveling quite a bit in the near future, so I might be in a town near you soon.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Leaving Google - part 2

This is the second post in a three post series about me leaving Google. If you missed it, the first part was Why not to leave Google. This post is about good reasons to leave Google anyway. The final instalment will be about what I am doing next.

Google thinks Big

If you pitch an idea or a project to Larry and Sergey, their feedback is quite easy to anticipate. They'll tell you you have to solve the problem in a more generic way. I tried to sell them on data communities, a place where like minded people could collaborate on structured data around topics they're interested in. The feedback was predictable: why restrict yourself to communities? And why to structured data? Come up with something that solves everything!

Thinking big sounds great, but most big ideas start small and go from there. Google itself started from the notion that it would be interesting to look at back links for pages. Twitter started out as hardly more than a group SMS product that also works online. Facebook explicitly restricted themselves at first to one university.

Wave is a case in point. Wave started with some fairly easy to understand ideas about online collaboration and communication. But in order to make it more general and universal, more ideas were added until the entire thing could only be explained in a 90 minute mind blowing demo that left people speechless but a little later wondering what the hell this was for.

At triposo.com, we use Wave extensively for taking notes and developing ideas and it works great (yes, Wave isn't dead yet). But as a product pitch, that on its own wouldn't have made it in Google. The problem with this for an individual engineer like me is that you can't work with a small team on a medium sized idea, get users and expand from there anymore. You either have to pitch something as the third coming of Steve or your idea will be relegated to being a feature of something else.

Google has a Plan

In building 43 in Mountain View, there used to be a white board with the Google Master Plan, a huge flow chart that started with hiring smart engineers and led ultimately to user happiness by way of steps like flying robots and GoogleOS. All in good fun of course, but I guess many people did suppose there was such a plan. There wasn't. Any resemblance to later Google execution was purely coincidental (though it did talk about a GoogleOS).

Google's mode of operation used to be best characterised as strictly opportunistic. There were certain principles and leading ideas, but any project that met those and where Google thought it could do better than what was out there, would be taken on.

No longer. Google now has strategies. Once you offer an online spreadsheet and an online word processor, strategy demands that you also offer an online solution for presentations, even if it isn't actually much better. And you start seeing presentations with product road maps and competitive landscapes and unique selling points.

No doubt this approach suits a bigger company better. But the engineer in me wants to go back to that whiteboard; hire smart people that exploit new opportunities that become available as technology develops to build new products and services, which in turn leads to user happiness. Having a plan easily gets in the way of doing the right thing there.

Google has a Way

There is a strong and specific culture at Google. A culture that entails that you take nothing for granted. That the fact that the world has been doing something in a certain way is no argument not to do it in a totally different way. And this has led to many innovations - from the search first homepage, to the NoSql movement, powering webmail by Ajax and many improvements when it comes to running datacenters energy efficient. And these are only the things that have been published!

But that's the thing. Being secretive is part of that culture. Google hardly ever talks about things that haven't launched yet. This allows Google internally to be really open. There are very few internal secrets and that works because the rule is that you don't talk about anything to outsiders. Living as an engineer in this peculiar world with its own technology stack and ideas about technology is very exciting especially in the beginning. There is so much to learn, so many ideas to explore.

Google has done its bit to keep the web open and to fight anybody trying to turn it into a so called walled garden. But being inside is a bit like being in a walled garden. You can't discuss interesting developments inside with people on the outside of course, but it is even hard to partake in discussions outside. And so after a few years what you learn and what you talk about seems less relevant for the real world. Over time this starts to outweigh the advantages of being on the inside.

So then...

The first two points make it harder to build exciting stuff in a smaller team than it used to be. The last point makes it less interesting to stick around. So then when the next idea comes along, it's time to jump.

In the final episode in this trio I'll explain what this next thing is!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Leaving Google

Part 1: Why not to leave Google

I am leaving Google and thought it would be useful to put the answer to the question I often get as a reaction to this “what’s wrong with you?” in a triplet of blog posts. That and to promote my next endeavour. This is the first part, why not leave Google.

As a hugely successful company in an rapidly changing industry it is no wonder that Google is the continuing target of media attention. In the 7 years that I have been employed there, the way Google has been depicted has rather changed a lot though. In the first years, Google was this company of whiz kids who just tried things because they seemed like a good idea and surprised the world and themselves by creating wonderful products. A couple of years later, business analysts started writing about the Google Way and how by taking the long view and doing the smart thing Google succeeded where short term profit driven approaches failed.

Lately however, the meme of Google being the new Microsoft, being the new evil empire seems to be gaining traction. Of course if “don’t be evil” is your informal motto, you can be expected to be held against that standard, too. But it annoyed me to no end how the press was generally ignoring Heinlein's Razor, assuming malice where at most stupidity could be found.

So before answering the questions why I am leaving Google and what am I going to do next, I wanted to first rectify some common misconceptions about Google, implicitly answering the question why not to leave Google.

Google has gone Evil
Search for [google evil] and mostly you’ll find posts about how Google has gone evil. No doubt Google has become rather big and involved in many products and markets. This does lead to complications and difficult decisions. Either way you go on a decision, somebody will call evil. Google being secretive doesn’t help - the idea here is that information can be freely shared inside of Google as long as nobody brings anything outisde - it means that mistakes easily seem like conspiracies.
Meanwhile, it is still the case that any plan at Google can be tackled by pointing out that it would in fact be evil. Even if said plan would make a lot of money.

All the good engineers are leaving for Facebook
Well, that’s clearly not the case; I am starting my own thing for example. :)
Facebook and Google do employ of course the same sort of people. A drive between their headquarters takes less than 15 minutes. Of course, you’re going to see employees switch companies. And Google employs 25 thousand people, so in absolute numbers, this can be a significant number. But like the man said, leaving Google for Facebook is like divorcing your wife for her sister (Luuk added, younger sister) and I do think more people leave Google for startups than for Facebook. And so it should be.

20% time is a myth
Back when the business analysts were talking about the Google Way of innovation, a lot was written about how Google engineers could spend 20% of their time on whatever they wanted to work. Recently, there are more articles about how this is just a myth. At Google, you’re expected to do work 5 days a week, just like anywhere else. You can’t just learn how to play the harp or whatever.
Well, yes, of course. The myth might have been that you basically get a day off a week to do whatever. It is still work. And you’re still held responsible for what you do. So yeah, you can do whatever you want to, but you have to actually want it and it is still for Google. Which means it isn’t for everybody. Also, it isn’t always the next big product. Hundreds of engineers at Google spend their 20% time on mundane things like promoting test driven coding, cleaning up old code, mentoring new engineers or just helping out on another project that needs helping.

You can’t get anything done at Google anymore
There is some truth to this one. As an individual engineer you are going to have less of an impact on an organization if there’s 25 thousand people working there than on an organization with 25. But there is of course a flip side to that argument. Having a huge impact on a small organization can still leave you pretty much invisible. And as Chrome and Android have shown, if a project at Google does succeed, it can shift the (tech) world.
As an individual engineer you can still get your pet project out of the door on Google Labs. The world or even most of Google might not notice, but that’s the same as in your 25 person company. Anybody check out sharedspaces.googlelabs.com?

And they pay well, let me work where I want and Googlers in general make for excellent co-workers. So why quit? I’ll leave the Google bashing for the next installment in this series.