BBD CEO Tour: Google

“We really are in the people business” said David Lawee today to the BBD CEO Study Tour Group at Google.

Our study tour group got the standard walk around Google, which starts with free food, and shows the volleyball court, the dinosaur and so on. This wasn’t the real Google though.

The real Google is about giving engineers a dream environment to create. That starts with the systems and tools that they have in front of them. I heard, for example, that every engineer gets access to all source code, with the exception of the core search code. What a vast resource. I’ve also heard elsewhere that all engineers get access to the massive data processing capability delivered by the vast data centers worldwide. And finally I’ve heard that there is no problem getting the tools that you personally like. This combines to form a great working environment for the engineers.

Google hires for great engineers, and great engineers vastly out-perform the good or ok engineers. Giving them the ideal development environment is good basics.

What can you do?

1: Ask your creatives, including developers what they want, listen to them and work with them to understand the biggest priorities and pain points.

2: Fulfill their dreams. Start with the tools – it’s inexcusable not to have two screens these days for a developer, but also give them complete flexibility on what computer and other tools they have, the desk and chair and the software. Productivity and creativity may be difficult to measure, but for the sake of a few hundred dollars you’ll see a massive difference in attitude and output. You can’t expect the system of the future to be designed with yesterday’s tools.

Get the bigger stuff right as well – make sure you step back now and then to look at the development platforms, the size of the databases and so on to make sure that none of these is ever a constraint. Let the professionals pick the right tool for the right job.

3: Get the physical environment right. That means everything from what sort of office everyone is in, to the presence or not of healthy food, the noise levels, access to a team’s  own whiteboards and meeting rooms, and ability to customise everything. An easy way to do this is to allocate each person or team a quarterly budget, and let them create their environment how they like it. Expect and encourage it to change over time – the office of today should be nothing like the office of last year.

There was plenty more to learn from Google – especially how they improve recruitment, performance reviews and compensation using analytics. They are probably the world experts at this, and while I got to hear a little bit about it from a friend prior to this week, I would dearly like to sit with him for a week or so to see how it actually works.

About Lance Wiggs

@lancewiggs
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