From Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus, by Douglas Rushkoff, loc 72-86:

A few weeks later, there was nothing to smile about. Protesters in Oakland were now throwing rocks at Google’s buses and broke a window, terrifying employees. Sure, I was as concerned about the company’s practices as anyone, and frustrated by the way Silicon Valley’s rapid growth seemed to be displacing instead of enriching the people of San Francisco and beyond. But I also had friends on those buses, trying to make a living off their hard-won coding skills. They may have made $100,000 a year, but they were stressed-out, perpetually monitored, and painfully aware of their own perishability. “Sprints”—bursts of round-the-clock coding to meet deadlines—came ever more frequently as new, more ambitious growth targets replaced the last set.

We may all be on the same side here. Google workers are less the beneficiaries of an expanding company than they are its rapidly consumed resources. The average employee leaves within a year 2 some to accept better positions at other companies but most of them simply to break free of the constant pressure to perform. Taking the bus gives them more time to work or just relax instead of driving. They are human beings.

I find his suggestion that recognition of growing inequality by Google workers leads them to pursue their careers more forcefully very plausible:

Google’s employees are not oblivious to the increasing poverty outside the bus windows on their way to work. If anything, such sights only make these workers cling to their jobs all the more desperately, leaving them less likely to question the deeper processes at play.

A fascinating article on the LSE’s Media Policy Blog about the global ambitions of contemporary technology giants and the corporate structures which facilitate them:

The folks who run these companies understand this. For if there is one thing that characterises the leaders of Google and Facebook it is their determination to take the long, strategic view. This is partly a matter of temperament, but it is powerfully boosted by the way their companies are structured: the founders hold the ‘golden shares’ which ensures their continued control, regardless of the opinions of Wall Street analysts or ordinary shareholders. So if you own Google or Facebook stock and you don’t like what Larry Page or Mark Zuckerberg are up to, then your only option is to dispose of your shares.

Being strategic thinkers, these corporate bosses are positioning their organisations to make the leap from the relatively small ICT industry into the much bigger worlds of healthcare, energy and transportation. That’s why Google, for example, has significant investments in each of these sectors. Underpinning these commitments is an understanding that their unique mastery of cloud computing, big data analytics, sensor technology, machine learning and artificial intelligence will enable them to disrupt established industries and ways of working in these sectors and thereby greatly widen their industrial bases. So in that sense mastery of the ‘digital’ is just a means to much bigger ends. This is where the puck is headed.

From Battle of the Titans loc 1846:

Anyone who has ever worked for Schmidt will tell you that he is one of the toughest, most competitive executives walking. Ask Rubin what it was like to be on the receiving end of a few “Don’t fuck it up” lectures from Schmidt. “Not fun,” Rubin says. But in public Schmidt comes across as anything but the ambitious, competitive Silicon Valley tycoon that he is. He looks and sounds like an economics professor. Dressed typically in khakis and either a sweater or a blazer and tie, he goes out of his way to make journalists feel comfortable in his presence. He often solicits follow-ups to make sure, as he often says, that he has answered your question “crisply.” He is one of the rare executives unafraid to answer questions head-on. His answers are filled with facts, data, and history. He always has an agenda, but he rarely appears evasive. Most CEOs avoid detailed discussions with journalists at all costs. They’d rather seem evasive than miss an opportunity to repeat a talking point. Schmidt prefers to overwhelm with facts and knowledge. He’s not afraid to talk about facts that don’t support his thesis. He just supplies other facts that do.

From Battle of the Titans, loc 113-127. This dynamic seems likely to intensify with time:

A lot of what we buy via Apple’s iTunes store—apps, music, movies, TV shows, books, etc.—doesn’t work easily on Android devices or at all, and vice versa. And both companies know that the more money each of us spends on apps and other media from one store, the less likely we are to switch to the other. They know we will ask, “Why rebuy all that content just to buy an Android phone instead of an iPhone?” Many companies have free apps that work on both platforms, but even having to redownload them, and re-set them up, is enough to keep many users from switching. In Silicon Valley parlance, it’s a platform war. Whether your example is Microsoft with Windows and Office, eBay with auctions, Apple with the iPod, Amazon with books, Google with search, or Facebook with social media, history suggests that the winner in fights like this gets more than 75 percent of the market share, while the loser struggles to stay in that business.

One of Google’s most famous perks is the ‘20% rule’, in which staff are allowed a portion of time to work on their own projects. However as Eric Schmidt and his co-author explain in How Google Works, this isn’t a matter of time as such. From loc 3210:

This is the power of 20 percent time, 181 the Google program whereby engineers can spend 20 percent of their time working on whatever they choose. Twenty percent time has spawned a host of great products—Google Now, Google News, transit information on Google Maps, and many more—but it is generally misunderstood. It’s not about time, it’s about freedom. 182 The program doesn’t mean that the campus turns into summer camp every Friday, with all the engineers goofing off in (hopefully) creative ways. In fact, 20 percent time is more like 120 percent time, since it often occurs on nights and weekends. But it can also be stored up and used all at once—Jonathan had one product manager take a summer to work on a 20 percent project. Regardless of when you take your 20 percent time, assuming it doesn’t get in the way of doing your regular job, no one can stop you from doing it. Twenty percent time is a check and balance on imperial managers, a way to give people permission to work on stuff they aren’t supposed to work on. It helps bring to life the Steve Jobs maxim that “you have to be run by ideas, not hierarchy.” 183 And we have found that when you trust people with freedom, they generally do not waste it on extravagant pies in the sky. You don’t get software engineers writing operas—they write code.

This could be reframed as a strategy to maximally extract value from human capital: expecting staff to pursue projects, on their own initiative and in their own time, which are owned by the corporation.

An interesting empirical question: what’s it like to be someone at Google who doesn’t want to do this? Are such people filtered out during the hiring process? If not, are there sanctions for non-compliance? For just wanting to do your job as its presented to you?

Later in the book I found this paragraph, loc 3408:

While we believe in paying extraordinary people extraordinarily well for extraordinary success, we don’t pay people for successful 20 percent projects. Dan Ratner may have received very generous compensation for being part of the transformational Street View product team, but he didn’t get anything directly tied to his work on trikes. 197 We don’t provide any monetary incentive for 20 percent projects for the simple reason that we don’t need to: It may sound corny, but the reward comes from the work itself. Several studies have shown that extrinsic rewards don’t encourage creativity, and in fact hinder it, by turning an inherently rewarding endeavor into a money-earning chore

I read this description of Schmidt in How Google Works and it immediately prompted the question of how this behaviour percolates down the food chain. How does a Google exec who fails this test then act in relation to their own subordinates? Loc 2524:

John Seely Brown, the former director of Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center, once said, “The essence of being human involves asking questions, not answering them.” 141 Eric likes to put this concept to the test when he walks the halls of Google or of the other companies with which he’s involved. When he runs into an exec he hasn’t seen in a while, the pleasantries don’t last long. After a cordial hello he’ll get to the point: “What’s going on in your job? What issues do you have? Tell me about that deliverable you owe me.” This has a couple of results: It helps Eric keep on top of the details of his business, and it helps him know which of his executives are on top of the details of their business. If someone is in charge of a business and can’t rattle off the key issues she faces in a matter of ten seconds, then she’s not up to the job. A hands-off approach to leadership doesn’t cut it anymore. You need to know the details.

As you may know, executive coaching is an increasingly common phenomenon, particularly in some sectors like tech. This is how Eric Schmidt and his co-author describe the necessity of it in How Google Works loc 2440:

Whenever you watch a world-class athlete perform, you can be sure that there is a great coach behind her success. It’s not that the coach is better at playing the sport than the player, in fact that is almost never the case. But the coaches have a different skill: They can observe players in action and tell them how to be better. So why is it that in the business world coaches are so unusual? Are we all like Eric when he started at Google, so confident of ourselves that we can’t imagine someone helping us to be better? If so, this is a fallacy. 

As a business leader, you need a coach. The first ingredient of a successful coaching relationship is a student who is willing to listen and learn. Just like there are hard-to-coach athletes, there are hard-to-coach executives. But once they get past that initial reticence, they find there are always things to learn. Business coaches, like all coaches, are at heart teachers, and Bill Campbell, the best coach around, tells us he believes that management is a skill that is completely learnable.

This is something which suggests an obvious comparison to sports, not just in terms of the language used to describe this relationship. James Surowiecki, author of Wisdom of Crowds, draws out the connection in an interesting essay about the increasing competitive advantage accrued when performance is already at a top level:

The key part of the “performance revolution” in sports, then, is the story of how organizations, in a systematic way, set about making employees more effective and productive. This, as it happens, is something that other organizations started doing around the same timeline.

But can managerial performance really be measured in these terms? I don’t think it can and the belief to the contrary strikes me as a really interesting conceit, reflecting interestingly on the culture of managerialism: a kind of moral athleticism amongst prominent CEOs in which they aspire to be all that they can be

If we look at the same phenomenon further down the organisational ladder, we get to enforced performance reviews and sanctions ensuing from a failure to meet imposed expectations. We get to sleepless night and diffuse anxiety saturating into everyday life, all generated by concerns over ‘performance’. Coaching still exists but it becomes a very different phenomenon, as this interview I did about the sociology of work-life coaching suggests:

Coaching usually consists of individual or group meetings that continue for a few months. In the beginning of these meetings, a goal is set for the whole coaching process, and then the process continues with for example personality tests or exercises that the clients do in order to achieve the set goal. The coaches that I interviewed were often a bit vague in their answers when I asked about the specific practices of coaching. They would rather talk about ‘realising the inner potential of the individual’, though what this means specifically is rather unclear.

In general, it seems that coaching is for most part about discussing one’s hopes and realities with the coach and getting feedback for both the exercises and tests and for the plans that one has and the actions that one takes. The focus on ‘potential’ is telling of how coaching is quite oriented towards the future but at the same time relies on something that is thought to already exist within the self. As it happens, coaching concentrates on the individual. This means that all the work that is done in coaching centers on changing oneself in order to achieve the goals that one wants to achieve. 

This is reflected in the practices of coaching in the sense that they demand self-reflexivity and focus on getting to know oneself and reflecting for instance on one’s personality with the help of tests and exercises. In terms of employment, this means that questions that concern wider social structures or even organisational structures are left outside the scope of the things one needs to change. It thus begins to seem that change always starts within the individual self – and also that if there is a need for change it is the self that is at fault. In the case of unemployment then, for example, the structural reasons for unemployment are not accounted for but rather it is thought that if the individual just works hard enough to change themselves then they will also find employment – and if one is unemployed it just means that one has not yet found the ‘true self’ and the right goals that would solve the problem. In other words, if one does not find work, it is implied that this just means that one has not worked hard enough on improving oneself.

As a relational technology of the self, work coaching has to be read against the background of metricisation. It naturalises metrics and their attendant apparatus of control, scrutiny and intervention. The issue becomes a narrow one of ‘performance’ rather than one’s place over time within an organisation.

I’ve nonetheless become a bit obsessed with Bill Campbell. He turns up time and time again in business books about Silicon Valley. It also turns out he was actually a football coach originally:

 Son of a local school official, Campbell was born and raised in Homestead, Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh. He attended Columbia University where he played football under coach Buff Donelli from 1959 to 1961. In his senior year, he was named to the All-Ivy Team. He graduated in 1962 with a bachelor’s degree in economics. In 1964, he obtained a master’s degree in education from Teachers College, Columbia University.[2] He was head coach of Columbia’s football team, the Columbia Lions from 1974 to 1979. Prior to this he was an assistant at Boston College for six years. He met his first wife, the former Roberta Spagnola, while she was the assistant dean in charge of Columbia’s undergraduate dormitories.

He joined J. Walter Thompson, the advertising agency, then Kodak where he rose to run Kodak’s European film business. Hired by John Sculley he became Apple’s VP of Marketing, then ran Apple’s Claris software division. When Sculley refused to spin Claris off into an independent company, Campbell and much of the Claris leadership left. Since 1997, when Steve Jobs returned to Apple, Campbell has served as a corporate director on Apple’s board of directors.

Campbell became CEO of GO Corporation, a startup pioneering a tablet computer operating system. After successfully selling GO Eo to AT&T Corporation in 1993, Campbell was CEO of Intuit from 1994 to 1998. Campbell announced that he would be retiring as the Chairman of the Board of Directors at Intuit starting January 2016.[3]

Campbell is an adviser to a number of technology companies, and was elected Chairman of the Board of Trustees at Columbia in 2005.

According to CNN Money, he is worth $200 million.[4]

To what extent is it a marker of prestige to be coached by Campbell? Is it still a status symbol for lesser executives to be coached by lesser coaches? Do these celebrity coaches and celebrity clients underwrite the demand elsewhere? Do all these coaches have top level business experience?

A really interesting question from Finn Brunton’s Spam pg 218:

An interesting question can be raised in relation to this innovative development: why is it innovative—or rather, why wasn’t such a system already normal? Citation analysis has been a common tool in social science since the Science Citation Index ® began in 1963 (with the original outline of such an idea in 1955, in Eugene Garfield’s “Citation Indexes for Science”). Some of the conceptual elements of such a system can be found as far back as the 1873 publication of the first Shepard’s Citations, which mapped legal citations. So why did such an approach only appear with “third-generation” search, rather than at the outset? Was it the conceptual understanding of the web in the initial years of browser development—that is, did the web not look “social,” at first, in the way a citation system does? Was it the separation of different disciplines within academia and business, such that the engineers, programmers, and entrepreneurs of the early web did not have a range of theories with which to analyze their project?

How Google Works is a fascinating book co-authored by Eric Schmidt in which he details, unsurprisingly, how Google works. In the section I just read, he describes how Google sets out to ensure that they only hire A’s, as detailed in loc 1413:

A workforce of great people not only does great work, it attracts more great people. The best workers are like a herd: They tend to follow each other. Get a few of them, and you’re guaranteed that a bunch more will follow. Google is renowned for its fabulous amenities, but most of our smart creatives weren’t drawn to us because of our free lunches, subsidized massages, green pastures, or dog-friendly offices. They came because they wanted to work with the best smart creatives. This “herd effect” can cut both ways: While A’s tend to hire A’s, B’s hire not just B’s, but C’s and D’s too. So if you compromise standards or make a mistake and hire a B, pretty soon you’ll have B’s, C’s, and even D’s in your company. And regardless of whether it works to the benefit or detriment of the company, the herd effect is more powerful when the employees are smart creatives and the company is new. In that case, each person’s relative importance is magnified; early employees are more conspicuous. Also, when you put great people with great people, you create an environment where they will share ideas and work on them. This is always true, but particularly in an early-stage environment.

But how does one ensure that only A’s are hired, safely keeping the potential plague of B’s, C’s and D’s at bay? This seems to be a matter of hiring people with “raw brainpower” because “Intelligence is the best indicator of a person’s ability to handle change” (loc 1478). But this can’t just be any smart person. They have to be Google-y. How do we assess this? By seeing if we like them. Loc 1523:

Another crucial quality is character. We mean not only someone who treats others well and can be trusted, but who is also well-rounded and engaged with the world. Someone who is interesting. Judging character during the interview process used to be fairly easy, since job interviews often included lunch or dinner at a restaurant and perhaps a drink or two, Mad Men style. Such a venue allowed the hiring executive to observe how the candidate comported himself “as a civilian.” What happens when he lets his guard down? How does he treat the waiter and bartender? Great people treat others well, regardless of standing or sobriety.

Hiring smart people who we think are nice. On one level, this is fair enough. On another, it’s deeply worrying, illuminating an elitist impulse – to hire ‘people like us’ with sufficient ‘raw brain power’ to cope – likely to be all the more pernicious because it basically misrecognises itself as egalitarian. They deny that this encourages homogeneity because they deny this entails only hiring candidates that you like:

You must work with people you don’t like, because a workforce comprised of people who are all “best office buddies” can be homogeneous, and homogeneity in an organization breeds failure. A multiplicity of viewpoints—aka diversity—is your best defense against myopia. We could go off on a politically correct tangent on how hiring a workforce that is diverse in terms of race, sexual orientation, physical challenges, and anything else that makes people different is the right thing to do (which it is). But from a strictly corporate point of view, diversity in hiring is even more emphatically the right thing to do. People from different backgrounds see the world differently. Women and men, whites and blacks, Jews and Muslims, Catholics and Protestants, veterans and civilians, gays and straights, Latinos and Europeans, Klingons and Romulans, 101 Asians and Africans, wheelchair-bound and able-bodied: These differences of perspective generate insights that can’t be taught. When you bring them together in a work environment, they integrate to create a broader perspective that is priceless. 102 Great talent often doesn’t look and act like you. When you go into that interview, check your biases at the door103 and focus on whether or not the person has the passion, intellect, and character to succeed and excel.

But how else to interpret the focus on ‘character’, the airport test (would you like to be stuck at an airport with your new hire?) and the whole notion of being Googley? Data driven hiring may hold out the promise of meritocracy but they fail to consider the possibility that these processes constructs ‘the best’ in a way liable to bring about the very outcome they’re trying to avoid. If it’s axiomatic that Google is already filled with ‘the best’ then it follows that the correct new hires will be those resembling the existing staff.

The same goes for managing people once they join you. Just like hiring, managing performance should be driven by data, with the sole objective of creating a meritocracy. You cannot be gender-, race-, and color-blind by fiat; you need to create empirical, objective methods to measure people. Then the best will thrive, regardless of where they’re from and what they look like.

The business press has always had a tendency to focus on the perks offered to staff in tech firms. I don’t think they’re manifestations of enlightened, almost non-hierarchical leadership, as some would suggest. But I don’t think they’re trivial either. But don’t take my word for it – here’s Eric Schmidt (and Jonathan Rosenberg) discussing this policy in How Google Works loc 591:

In Google’s case, our approach to facilities was grounded in the company’s beginnings in a Stanford dorm room. Larry and Sergey set out to create an environment similar to a university, where students have access to world-class cultural, athletic, and academic facilities … and spend most of their time working their butts off. What most outsiders fail to see when they visit Google is the offices where employees spend the bulk of their time. Follow your typical Googler (and probably LinkedIn, Yahoo, Twitter, or Facebook employee, although the last time we tried we got stopped by security) from the volleyball court, café, or kitchen back to their workspace and what will you find? A series of cubicles that are crowded, messy, and a petri dish for creativity. 

This seems straight forward to me: Google style corporate perks are a deliberate attempt to make the intensification of work bearable, if not desirable, for staff with sufficient autonomy to preclude their simply being ordered to work for 80+ hours a week. In fact the authors come close to saying this explicitly in terms of what I think of as chronoreflexivity on a later page, loc 828:

it’s not a key component of your job to ensure that employees consistently have a forty-hour workweek. We’ve both worked with young moms who go completely dark for a few hours in the evening, when they are with their families and putting their kids to bed. Then, around nine, the emails and chats start coming and we know we have their attention. (Dads too, but the pattern is especially true for the working moms.) Are they overworked? Yes. Do they have too much to do at home too? Yes. Are they sacrificing their family and life for work? Yes and no. They have made their lifestyle decisions. There are times when work overwhelms everything and they have to make sacrifices, and they accept that. But there are also those times when they sneak away for an afternoon to take the kids to the beach or—more likely—have the gang drop by the office for lunch or dinner. (Google’s main campus courtyard on a summer evening looks like family camp, there are so many children running around while their parents enjoy a nice dinner.) The intense stretches may last for weeks or even months, especially in start-ups, but they never last forever. Manage this by giving people responsibility and freedom. Don’t order them to stay late and work or to go home early and spend time with their families. Instead, tell them to own the things for which they are responsible, and they will do what it takes to get them done. Give them the space and the freedom to make it happen.

They’re also explicit about seeking to engineer long hours in the office because of the value potentially found in serendipitous encounter. From loc 646-661:

There is a method to this madness, and it’s not profligacy. We invest in our offices because we expect people to work there, not from home. Working from home during normal working hours, which to many represents the height of enlightened culture, is a problem that—as Jonathan frequently says—can spread throughout a company and suck the life out of its workplace. Mervin Kelly, the late chairman of the board of Bell Labs, designed his company’s buildings to promote interactions between employees. 35 It was practically impossible for an engineer or scientist to walk down the long halls without running into a colleague or being pulled into an office. This sort of serendipitous encounter will never happen when you are working at home. Google’s AdSense36 product, which developed into a multibillion-dollar business, was invented one day by a group of engineers from different teams who were playing pool in the office. Your partner or roommate is probably great, but the odds of the two of you coming up with a billion-dollar business during a coffee break at home are pretty small, even if you do have a pool table. Make your offices crowded and load them with amenities, then expect people to use them.

There’s an interesting section of In The Plex which details quite how much Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer hated Google. From pg 282-283:

Just how intensely Microsoft’s CEO, Steve Ballmer, despised his competitor to the south became clear in depositions that would be filed in the Lee lawsuit. The year before, in November 2004, a top Microsoft executive named Mark Lucovsky had gone to Steve Ballmer with the unwelcome news that he was leaving Microsoft. “ Just tell me it’s not Google ,” said Ballmer, according to Lucovsky’s sworn testimony. Lucovsky confirmed that it was indeed Google. Lucovsky testified that Ballmer went ballistic: “Fucking Eric Schmidt is a fucking pussy! I’m going to fucking bury that guy! I have done it before and I will do it again. I’m going to fucking kill Google.” (The reference to having “done it before” seemed to refer to Microsoft’s anticompetitive actions during the browser war, when Schmidt was aligned with the Netscape forces.) For good measure, Ballmer threw a chair across the room, according to Lucovsky. (Ballmer would later say that Lucovsky’s account was exaggerated, but the CEO’s denials were not made under oath.)

The competition between Microsoft and Google is easily explicable in terms of the dynamics of a number of intersecting markets, with their respective positions within them changing as a result of their rivalry, in the process contributing to the transformation of the markets themselves.

But what makes this a matter of grievance? It’s an interesting question to ask what influence personal antagonism exerts over inter-organisational conflict. Is it a product of this organisational competition? Is it a driver of this competition? Or is it both: does the organisational conflict (continently) lead to personal antagonism, by creating situations in which it thrives, which in turn amplifies the organisational conflict, by introducing personal animus into corporate decision making?

From In The Plex pg 185:

Sergey Brin even put a label on his cofounder’s frustration at the tendency of developers to load more and more features into programs, making them run way too slowly. Page’s Law , according to Brin, was the observation that every eighteen months, software becomes twice as slow. Google was determined to avoid this problem. “We want to actually break Page’s law and make our software increasingly fast over time,” says Brin.

I just came across this fascinating article, now 10 years old, detailing how former Google CEO Eric Schmidt cut off relations with CNET after a reporter  there had the temerity to detail the information she was able to find out about him via Google:

Last month, Elinor Mills, a writer for CNET News, a technology news Web site, set out to explore the power of search engines to penetrate the personal realm: she gave herself 30 minutes to see how much she could unearth about Mr. Schmidt by using his company’s own service. The resulting article, published online at CNET’s under the sedate headline “Google Balances Privacy, Reach,” was anything but sensationalist. It mentioned the types of information about Mr. Schmidt that she found, providing some examples and links, and then moved on to a discussion of the larger issues. She even credited Google with sensitivity to privacy concerns.

When Ms. Mills’s article appeared, however, the company reacted in a way better suited to a 16th-century monarchy than a 21st-century democracy with an independent press. David Krane, Google’s director of public relations, called’s editor in chief to complain about the disclosure of Mr. Schmidt’s private information, and then Mr. Krane called back to announce that the company would not speak to any reporter from CNET for a year.

At some point, I’ll collate all the cases like this I can find: it’s grimly fascinating to watch digital elites react with anger to the transparency they seek to impose on everyone else. In this case Schmidt seems to be rather averse to the assumptions about transparency that Google have long sought to inculcate in their users. From pg 177-178 of In The Plex:

Omitting a delete button was supposed to teach you to view email—and information itself—the way Google did. The implicit message was that the only thing that should be deleted was the concept of limited storage. Not everybody at Google subscribed to this philosophy—Eric Schmidt had long before instituted a personal practice of making his emails “go away as quickly as possible” unless specifically asked to retain them.

From pg 178 of the same book, concerning how Google see privacy organisations. Note how the epistemic asymmetry, in terms of access to and understanding of internal technical processes, allows criticism to be dismissed: 

To most people at Google, though, automatic archiving was a cause for celebration, and gripes from privacy do-gooders were viewed as misguided or even cynically—exploiting a phony issue for their own status and fund-raising. “Even to this day, I’ll read people saying that Google keeps your [deleted] email forever. Like, totally false stuff!” says Buchheit. Buchheit called his critics “fake privacy organizations” because in his mind “they were primarily interested in getting attention for themselves and were going around telling lies about things.”

An interesting extract from Steven Levy’s In The Plex about Google’s Associate Product Managers, a select group being groomed as future leaders. From page 3:

The APM program, I learned, was a highly valued initiative. To quote the pitch one of the participants made in 2006 to recent and upcoming college graduates: “We invest more into our APMs than any other company has ever invested into young employees…. We envision a world where everyone is awed by the fact that Google’s executives, the best CEOs in the Silicon Valley, and the most respected leaders of global non-profits all came through the Google APM program.” Eric Schmidt, Google’s CEO, told me, “One of these people will probably be our CEO one day—we just don’t know which one.” The eighteen APMs on the trip worked all over Google: in search, advertising, applications, and even stealth projects such as Google’s attempt to capture the rights to include magazines in its index. Mayer’s team, along with the APMs themselves, had designed the agenda of the trip.  

The trip involved all manner of team-building exercises intended to “increase the participants’ understanding of a technology or business issue, or make them more (in the parlance of the company) ‘Googley'”. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this wasn’t a very diverse group. From page 4:

The most fascinating part of the trip was the time spent with the young Googlers. They were generally from elite colleges, with SAT scores approaching or achieving perfection. Carefully culled from thousands of people who would have killed for the job, their personalities and abilities were a reflection of Google’s own character. During a bus ride to the Great Wall of China, one of the APMs charted the group demographics and found that almost all had parents who were professionals and more than half had parents who taught at a university—which put them in the company of Google’s founders. They all grew up with the Internet and considered its principles to be as natural as the laws of gravity. They were among the brightest and most ambitious of a generation that was better equipped to handle the disruptive technology wave than their elders were. Their minds hummed like tuning forks in resonance with the company’s values of speed, flexibility, and a deep respect for data.

To what extent do these people come to see themselves as ‘future leaders’? What does this self-conception entail for how they conceive of the relationship between themselves and the world? I’m very interested in this discourse of ‘leadership’ having recently discovered the existence of ‘leadership camps’ to which ambitious American parents send their children.

This snippet from an interview with the new Google CEO, Sundar Pichai, intrigued me:

Pichai has said that he’s attracted to computing because of its ability to do cheaply things that are useful to everyone, irrespective of class or background. “The thing which attracted me to Google and to the internet in general is that it’s a great equalizer,” he said in a video interview last year. “I’ve always been struck by the fact that Google search worked the same, as long as you had access to a computer with connectivity, if you’re a rural kid anywhere or a professor at Stanford or Harvard.”

I’m very interested in the moral self-understandings which are common within the tech industry: do other senior corporate figures think in these terms? To what extent does it motivate the work they do? Or is it simply a retrospective story which they tell to congratulate themselves on their disruption?