Telling it Like it Is


Google is not as great as some people think. Sure, their third quarter results were incredible, but thats not all that counts at a big software company like Google; code base and code infrastructure are huge. You need to have good code and good ways to interact with that code. The latter is a big concern for Steve Yegge, an outspoken Google engineer who mistakenly posted a long rant about some of Google’s issues. It was extremely interesting, refreshingly honest, and is exactly what Google needs.

Yegge recognized that Google had systematic problems that needed to be addressed. These problems stemmed from the way they created new products and how they structured their code and, the longer these problems went unaddressed, the more costly they become. Yegge talks about his experience at Amazon.com and how difficult it was to move all their code to a service based architecture (as mandated by Jeff Bezos) but how rewarding it was in the end; allowing Amazon to create their groundbreaking Amazon Web Services. I did an internship at Amazon this summer and experienced first hand how beneficial service oriented architecture can be. Facebook and Microsoft take advantage of this as well, allowing for all the great Facebook applications and it is the reason so many businesses choose Microsoft. Yegge recognized this and decided it was important enough to speak up, no matter the ramifications, “the problem we face is pretty huge, because it will take a dramatic cultural change in order for us to start catching up.”

Yegge wasn’t the first person to “tell it like it is.” This summer, over at Research In Motion (the guys who make Blackberry), an anonymous employee recognized some big problems with they way RIM runs and wrote an open letter to the company. It was very similar to Yegge’s rant in that it was brutally honest and called for big systematic changes. I think this kind of large-scale, call to action is hugely important at any company and especially technology companies where fast-paced work can leave little time for reflection and analysis. Sam Walton might disagree with what these employee’s did, since his first rule of building a business is “Commit to your business. Believe in it more than anyone else.” However, I think more than anything, that these employees did want their company to succeed, and thats why they said these things (making them public might have been the wrong choice, but the idea was there). In the end, I hope more employees speak their mind when they have concerns about their company.


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7 Responses to Telling it Like it Is

  1. Slade says:

    The question is though, can all of these companies handle the time and money it takes to invest in a restructuring of their code? It would take a large amount of resources to change the code base and infrastructure at such large companies like Google and RIM, but they obviously can do it. But should they? I believe that although it should happen eventually, changing such an important thing like base code and architecture is a significant process, possibly on the scale of a merger, which takes years to complete. These companies should start the process and likely will, but should be working towards starting it, not just immediately diving into it. Google is dealing with Google+ right now and is diverting a lot of its attention to that, while RIM has been dealing with declining sales and stock price, and it needs to make moves to bring its value back up. Updating the base code for these companies is obviously a huge deal, but isn’t the most important thing at hand for companies that deal with billions of dollars of investment in a multitude of industries and aspects.

    • RickE says:

      Thats the point, there is never going to be a “good” time to restructure all of your code at any software company, but you just have to take the hit and do it. The only way that Amazon was able to do it is Jeff Bezos had to send out a mandate, which everybody at Amazon hated. And it’s not really going to help unless you do it for all of your code. Nobody wants to do it, but you just gotta do it.

  2. tpm011 says:

    If an employee really did feel this was the best way to make the company better is it really beneficial to leak it out so that the whole world knows their weaknesses?

    • RickE says:

      However, I think it is true that once the whole world knows these problems, the company is more likely to focus on fixing quickly them in order to regain faith of investors and consumers. Although I agree that things of this nature are best kept internal.

  3. tesoman says:

    While I don’t know a lot code it is interesting to hear that people within these companies, particularly RIM, are voicing and confirming what a large number of their customer base has been speculating for a while now. As a BlackBerry user I feel like I have been in a war trying to defend my phone and its overall functionality when compared with the iPhone. Sales are declining at RIM because the gap is widening and even the most ignorant of customers (myself included) have had to concede that the next phone purchase will most likely be an apple. It reminds me of the whole PC vs. Apple debate and, as a PC, I then was ignorant to the fact that PC was being left behind. I would dare say (and I might be way off) that PC has weathered that storm and has reassured the (perhaps wrong) confidence that PC users have had. While iPhone users enjoy seamless use of their devices, I am constantly restarting my BlackBerry each time it freezes. And while there’s an app for almost everything an iPhone user could ever imagine, Angry Birds (one of the most popular apps of all time) is still yet to come to the BlackBerry app world which is dwarfed by the iTunes app store. Its a sad time to be a BlackBerry owner, especially when its also becoming apparent that Android phones are leaving us behind as well. Just last night, a friend with a droid was able to look up a wiki page and read its contents before my BlackBerry had even opened up the browser! 😦

  4. ChrisB says:

    I would agree that leaking the problems isn’t the best move if you have the company’s best interest at heart. However, I think that it might be hard to get your concerns to those in a position to fix the problem as well as having those people listen to you. Perhaps the employee felt this was the best way to get the message across. If so, maybe companies like Research in Motion should look into creating easier and faster channels of communication so that problems like these can be dealt with discretely and internally.

  5. mnickels says:

    I agree with Rick in that leaking the weaknesses of a company can make the company fix the problems and try to do it quickly. It might not be the best idea, but like Chris said, it might be hard to voice your concerns to people who can actually fix the problem. Voicing concerns to the public does let people know that the company does have a weakness or a problem and it can maybe help people see what is actually going on. Companies hide a lot of things from the public so it is kind of refreshing to hear these concerns from employees and actually find out what is going on.

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