Former Google Exec Reveals Why He Jumped Ship
April 4, 2013
Ex-Googler James Whittaker takes us behind the scenes at his former company in “Why I Left Google” on his blog, JW on Tech. The prominent tech executive, who has moved on to Microsoft, was so often asked why he transitioned that he was compelled to write up this account for the masses. Whittaker is quick to point out that his story is no tabloid-worthy dirt fest, but rather the tale of a changing corporate culture.
The article describes Google under Eric Schmidt as a place where innovation was heartily encouraged, while the advertisements that powered it lurked in the background for all but those in the ad department. This was the culture that produced such wildly successful gems as Gmail and Chrome. Whittaker compares the approach to that of good television shows, which earn their ad revenue by supplying quality content.
The creative heyday was not to last, and Whittaker hangs the shift squarely on competition with rival Facebook. After seeing how enticing that site’s cache of user data was proving to be to advertisers, and how far ahead Facebook was pulling in the marketing game, Google quickly changed its focus. The story relates:
“Larry Page himself assumed command to right this wrong. Social became state-owned, a corporate mandate called Google+. It was an ominous name invoking the feeling that Google alone wasn’t enough. Search had to be social. Android had to be social. You Tube, once joyous in their independence, had to be … well, you get the point. Even worse was that innovation had to be social. Ideas that failed to put Google+ at the center of the universe were a distraction.
“Suddenly, 20% meant half-assed. Google Labs was shut down. App Engine fees were raised. APIs that had been free for years were deprecated or provided for a fee. As the trappings of entrepreneurship were dismantled, derisive talk of the ‘old Google’ and its feeble attempts at competing with Facebook surfaced to justify a ‘new Google’ that promised ‘more wood behind fewer arrows.’
“The days of old Google hiring smart people and empowering them to invent the future was gone. The new Google knew beyond doubt what the future should look like. Employees had gotten it wrong and corporate intervention would set it right again.”
Whittaker hung in for a while, serving as the development director for Google+. Eventually, though, as Google+ failed to attract converts from Facebook, he lost all faith in the company’s new direction. He came to believe that the old, innovative Google was lost, and that it was time to move on.
Will Google ever regain that intrepid spirit, or is that heady time gone forever?
Cynthia Murrell, April 04, 2013