A Google employee has written a post about what it’s like working at the company.
At his blog, Apenwarr, Google Fiber engineer Avery Pennarun is largely complimentary of Google and its employees: “I continue to be amazed at the overall smartness of people at this place. Overall, very nearly everybody, across the board, surprises or impresses me with how smart they are.”
However, Pennarun says, “Smart people have a problem, especially (although not only) when you put them in large groups. That problem is an ability to convincingly rationalize nearly anything.”
Because smart people, especially computer-oriented smart people, tend to be logic oriented, they always find a rationale to support any conclusion. They also tend to avoid the chaotic, random, messy reality of the world where results don’t fit neatly into logically rational outcomes, says Pennarun.
This leads to misguided beliefs later in life. At Google, for instance, projects can be easily rationalized:
Working at a large, successful company lets you keep your isolation. If you choose, you can just ignore all the inconvenient facts about the world. You can make decisions based on whatever input you choose. The success or failure of your project in the market is not really that important; what’s important is whether it gets canceled or not, a decision which is at the whim of your boss’s boss’s boss’s boss, who, as your only link to the unpleasantly unpredictable outside world, seems to choose projects quasi-randomly, and certainly without regard to the quality of your contribution.
It’s a setup that makes it very easy to describe all your successes (project not canceled) in terms of your team’s greatness, and all your failures (project canceled) in terms of other people’s capriciousness. End users and profitability, for example, rarely enter into it. This project isn’t supposed to be profitable; we benefit whenever people spend more time online. This project doesn’t need to be profitable; we can use it to get more user data. Users are unhappy, but that’s just because they’re change averse. And so on.
As a result, Pennarum says people at Google are cursed with overconfidence. Because they’ve been so successful in life, they believe everything they do is successful and deserves a positive outcome.