Robert Cringley writes a provocative post about Google’s 20% time and that it’ll cause problems in the future as employees get frustrated that their ideas aren’t getting implemented.
I think he underestimates what’s going on inside Google.
First, did you know that every employee has access to the source code? All of it? I don’t know of any other company of Google’s size that gives every employee access to every source code asset. For developers this is like being in the coolest sandbox in the world.
So, an employee could build a pretty darn interesting system on his/her 20% time and get buy in from the people involved. Say you wanted to build a Digg-like system for Google Reader? Well, you don’t need permission to build it. Just build it, then show it to the Google Reader team. If they like it, then they could turn it on.
Now, what if they don’t like it? Well, what, you gonna go outside and do that? No way. Google has lockin on interesting ideas that you could come up with. Forget the legal lockin too. What’s the real secret sauce over at Google? Is it your idea? No.
It’s the infrastructure!
The datacenters, the fiber, all that. Look at the troubles Technorati had earlier this week. Or that Twitter had over the past two months.
Getting your idea to work (and to be integrated with something that’d bring you large amounts of traffic) will not be easy outside the walls of Google.
Yesterday I had lunch with a VC and he said they are seeing remarkably few Googlers quitting and/or starting new companies.
My friends at Google are unhireable. Why? Cause they are happy and engaged in the mission of doing Google’s work. So, Cringley’s caution might turn out right long term. But not this year. And that built in sandbox is going to prove pretty resilient and is something that Cringley didn’t seem to take into account.