Leadership: The Google Way

April 14, 2018

Lead, follow, or get out of the way. Nope. Lead by keeping a low profile and tackling “projects” in a stealthy manner.

That’s how I interpreted the information in “Google is Pursuing the Pentagon’s Giant Cloud Contract Quietly, Fearing An Employee Revolt.” The write up states:

The Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure, or JEDI, program has since morphed into a single contract potentially worth $10 billion over a decade, to be awarded by year’s end…. Google has kept its own interest in the contract out of the press. Company leaders have even hidden the pursuit from its own workers.

Interesting Math Club / Silicon bro management method. Lead, follow, or get out of the way. Oh, don’t sign petitions asking your boss to turn down major military contracts. Trust is important in leadership.

Stephen E Arnold, April 14, 2018

When Employees Protest, Management Has to Manage

April 12, 2018

The online information drum has been pounding out messages about the Google employees who don’t want Google to do evil. The issue pivots on the GOOG’s tie up with the US government. The application? Smart software for DoD type challenges.

What if innovation didn’t come down to who had the brightest mind, but who has the biggest collection of data? That’s an interesting thought that is gaining steam in the tech community, especially among venture capitalists. We got a hint of this growing world from the Harvard Business Review article, “Are The Most Innovative Companies Just The Ones With The Most Data?”

According to the story:

“[I]nnovation is founded on data rather than human ideas, the firms that benefit are the ones that have access to the most data. Therefore, in many instances, innovation will no longer be a countervailing force to market concentration and scale. Instead, innovation will be a force that furthers them.”

Google’s employee push back warrants observation as the company tries to guide itself through choppy high technology water.

Patrick Roland, April 12, 2018

Google Wobbles

April 8, 2018

I noted that some of Google’s employees are not happy with the firm’s decision to apply its smart software to US government projects. What’s interesting is that for years, grousing at Google was low key. When Xooglers began posting their thoughts about the company, there was some activity which fizzled quickly. I wondered why no one was doing Google “tell all” type writing.

Now Google faces yet another management challenge. A UPI story reports that Google employees are protesting. The Googlers don’t want the ad supported search giant supporting the Pentagon’s drone strike program. (Tip: If you are a target, a mobile phone with a GPS capability is not your friend.)

According the story:

In a letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai, the employees voiced opposition to Project Maven, “a customized AI surveillance engine that uses ‘Wide Area Motion Imagery’ data captured by U.S. government drones to detect vehicles and other objects, track their motions, and provide results to the Department of Defense.”

From my vantage point in Harrod’s Creek, Google may face some challenges with regard to staff management.

With this UPI story in mind, I noted an essay titled “Google’s Near Monopoly May Be Crumbling.” The article asserts:

The broader point is that the awesome market power of behemoths like Facebook and Google may be far more vulnerable than investors and rivals have assumed.

That strikes me as a bit of wishful thinking. The notion that a metasearch engine which relies on Bing or another Web index for results can challenge Google is a bit of a stretch. Alternatives to Google are available, but neither Qwant or Yandex is likely to deliver what users of Google seem to want.

I do think that Google’s management capabilities are showing signs of weakness. I believe that the real challenge to Google resides within the firm’s 60,000 staff and thousands of contractors.

The idea that a union or federation of employees may gain some traction. Human resources, not technology or user loyalty, may be the most vulnerable component of Google.

The reason is that from its inception, Google favored an engineering approach to management. The firm’s engineering may not be top drawer, but it is good enough. I think Google’s handling of its human resources and personnel problems will make clear if the “soft” or “illogical” aspect of running a business is an asset or a liability.

Stephen E Arnold, April 7, 2018

Google and Search: More Churn Turmoil

April 4, 2018

I read “John Giannandrea, Head of Google’s Cornerstone Web-Search Unit, Steps Down.” I found the phrase “steps down” amusing. I think the wizard went to the Apple orchard. Since Mr. Giannandrea ran search, Google search has become less useful to me. Now I have to use multiple search systems to locate what I think are slam dunk queries. Nope. I get some pretty off the wall Google search results.

Two points jumped out of this story for me.

First, Google is forced to go back to one of the early Googlers from the AltaVista.com team. (I did some work for an outfit called PersimmonIT, which was a provider to AltaVista.com.) What’s interesting is that Jeff Dean is one of the really old Google guard. I know he’s bright and capable but that begs this question: “Aren’t their younger, smarter, and as or more capable professionals to get the over hyped Google artificial intelligence operation underway.” I can suggest at least one candidate from the DeepMind team. But, hey, who really cares?

Second, search must be pretty broken. The job has fallen to another old timer at the GOOG. Same question: “Aren’t there younger, more with it technical wizards who can handle the massively complex, software wrapped, advertising centric systems? (Yep, systems because there is “regular” search and “mobile” search. Two search systems are part of the index puzzle Google has built over the years.) Plus, do you remember Google’s “universal” search which, as aBearStearns’ legend has it, was cooked up over a weekend to deal with a PR problem triggered by an analyst’s report to which yours truly contributed. You know “universal.” One query gets you blog content,  new Web sites, Google Books, Google Scholar, yada yada. That doesn’t exist and probably will never come to pass for some pretty good reasons. But saying something is just as good as delivering I assume.)

Net net: Google is now a mature company. The founders have distanced themselves from the legal troubles in which the company is mired. The company is caught in the Silicon Valley backlash. The Oracle Jave thing is a Freddie Kruger thing for the GOOG. Management change is a companion to the craziness which seems to characterize some units of the company.

I wonder if a query launched from a desktop computer will return on point results in the near future. I sure hope so.

Stephen E Arnold, April 4, 2018

Will Google Management Face a Pullman Moment?

April 2, 2018

We noted “Exclusive: Google Employees Organize to Fight Cyber Bullying at Work.” When I first scanned the headline, I wondered if Google was taking a stand to minimize social media users from beating up on people. Then I wondered if Google employees were trying to curb bullying at and within the Alphabet Google itself.

pullman strike

Could Google employees strike for better treatment of lower tier elite employees?

The write up explains that the employees want to offer “policies” to to improve the conduct of fellow employees. I learned:

Google should tighten rules of conduct for internal forums and hire staff to enforce them. They [the employees who want to curtail bullying] said they want to stop inflammatory conversations and personal attacks on the forums and see punishment for individuals who regularly derail discussions or leak conversations. The group also wants Google to list rights and responsibilities for accusers, defendants, managers and investigators in human resources cases. The group also desires greater protection for employees targeted by what it views as insincere complaints to human resources used as a bullying tactic and goading.

As Google tries to diversify and treat people equally, some behaviors may have to be modified. In my experience, outfits which perceive themselves to be elite create micro elites within the organization. The idea obviously is to be the most elite of the elite. This approach is part of what some have called the “bro culture” and what I describe as the high school science club approach. A group of “elite”—whom some might describe as arrogant and socially flawed individuals—stick together to preserve their eliteness. I noticed this behavior among the nuclear engineers at Halliburton Nuclear when I worked there in the 1970s. Some nuclear engineers were just more special; for example, the requisite training in math, chemistry, and physics and the cachet of graduating from the Naval Academy. A mere nuclear engineer from a traditional university was a second class person. You can imagine how this crowd reacted to a person like me who indexed Latin sermons and landed in this “elite” outfit.l

There is another issue looming at Google. This problem did not crop up when I moved from the Halliburton Nuclear outfit to Booz, Allen & Hamilton (another elite-type operation).

Google may be facing a unionization moment. That would make life exciting for the elite of the elite. I know that selling ads seems a bit down market, but from this modest grousing, the Alphabet Google elite may have to manage or face a Pullman moment.

Stephen E Arnold, April 2, 2018

Silicon Valley Management Method: Has Broflow Replaced Workflow?

March 23, 2018

In early March, we noted a story about Silicon Valley and evil. “How Silicon Valley Went from ‘Don’t Be Evil’ to Doing Evil” reported about the “bro” culture and a casual approach to customer privacy. There was a nod to fake news too. We noted this statement:

“[A] handful of companies or concentrated in one or two regions. The great progress in the 1980s and 1990s took place in a highly competitive, and dispersed, environment not one dominated by firms that control 80 or 90 percent of key markets. Not surprisingly, the rise of the oligarchs coincides with a general decline in business startups, including in tech.”

Today we noted “Here is How Google Handles Right to Be Forgotten Requests.” We found this passage suggestive:

Witness statements submitted by Google “legal specialist” Stephanie Caro (who admitted: “I am not by training a lawyer”) for both trials explained: “The process of dealing with each delisting request is not automated – it involves individual consideration of each request and involves human judgment. Without such an individual assessment, the procedure put in place by Google would be open to substantial abuse, with the prospect of individuals, or indeed businesses, seeking to suppress search results for illegitimate reasons.”

No smart software needed it seems. And the vaunted technical company’s workflow with regard to removal requests? Possibly “casual” or “disorganized.”

When considered against the backdrop of Facebook-Cambridge Analytics, process seems less important than other tasks.

Perhaps some management expert will assign the term “bro-flow” to the organizational procedures implemented by some high profile technology firms?

Stephen E Arnold, March 23, 2018


Patrick Roland, March 9, 2018

Governance: Now That Is a Management Touchstone for MBA Experts

February 27, 2018

I read “Unlocking the Power of Today’s Big Data through Governance.” Quite a lab grown meat wiener that “unlocking,” “power,” “Big Data,” and “governance” statement is that headline. Yep, IDG, the outfit which cannot govern its own agreements with the people the firm pays to make the IDG experts so darned smart. (For the back-story, check out this snapshot of governance in action.)

Image result for wishful thinking

What’s the write up with the magical word governance about?

Instead of defining “governance,” I learn what governance is not; to wit:

Data governance isn’t about creating a veil of secrecy around data

I have zero idea what this means. Back to the word “governance.” Google and Wikipedia define the word in this way:

Governance is all of the processes of governing, whether undertaken by a government, market or network, whether over a family, tribe, formal or informal organization or territory and whether through the laws, norms, power or language of an organized society.

Okay, governing. What’s governing mean? Back to the GOOG. Here’s one definition which seems germane to MBA speakers:

control, influence, or regulate (a person, action, or course of events).

The essay drags out the chestnuts about lots of information. Okay, I think I understand because Big Data has been touted for many years. Now, mercifully I assert, the drums are beating out the rhythm of “artificial intelligence” and its handmaiden “algos,” the terrific abbreviation some of the marketing jazzed engineers have coined. Right, algos, bro.

What’s the control angle for Big Data? The answer is that “data governance” will deal with:

  • Shoddy data
  • Incomplete data
  • Off point data
  • Made up data
  • Incorrect data

Presumably these thorny issues will yield to a manager who knows the ins and outs of governance. I suppose there are many experts in governance; for example, the fine folks who have tamed content chaos with their “governance” of content management systems or the archiving mavens who have figured out what to do with tweets at the Library of Congress. (The answer is to not archive tweets. There you go. Governance in action.)

The article suggests a “definitive data governance program.” Right. If one cannot deal with backfiles, changes to the data in the archives, and the new flows of data—how does one do the “definitive governance program” thing? The answer is, “Generate MBA baloney and toss around buzzwords.” Check out the list of tasks which, in my experience, are difficult to accomplish when resources are available and the organization has a can-do attitude:

  • Document data and show its lineage.
  • Set appropriate policies, and enforce them.
  • Address roles and responsibilities of everyone who touches that data, encouraging collaboration across the organization.

These types of tasks are the life blood of consultants who purport to have the ability to deliver the near impossible.

What happens if we apply the guidelines in the Governance article to the data sets listed in “Big Data And AI: 30 Amazing (And Free) Public Data Sources For 2018.” In my experience, the cost of normalizing the data is likely to be out of reach for most organizations. Once these data have been put in a form that permits machine-based quality checks, the organization has to figure out what questions the data can answer with a reasonable level of confidence. Getting over these hurdles then raises the question, “Are these data up to date?” And, if the data are stale, “How do we update the information?” There are, of course, other questions, but the flag waving about governance operates at an Ivory Tower level. Dealing with data takes place with one’s knees on the ground and one’s hands in the dirt. If the public data sources are not pulling the hay wagon, what’s the time, cost, and complexity of obtaining original data sets, validating them, and whipping them into shape for use by an MBA?

You know the answer: “This is not going to happen.”

Here’s a paragraph which I circled in Oscar Mayer wiener pink:

One of the more significant, and exciting, changes in data governance has been the shift in focus to business users. Historically, data has been a technical issue owned by IT and locked within the organization by specific functions and silos. But if data is truly going to be an asset, everyday users—those who need to apply the data in different contexts—must have access and control over it and trust the data. As such, data governance is transforming from a technical tool to a business application. And chief data officers (CDOs) are starting to see the technologies behind data governance as their critical operating environment, in much the same way SAP serves CFOs, and Salesforce supports CROs. It is rare to find an opportunity to build a new system of record for a market.

Let’s look at this low calorie morsel and consider some of its constituent elements. (Have you ever seen wieners being manufactured? Fill in that gap in your education if you have not had the first hand learning experience.)

First, business users want to see a pretty dashboard, click on something that looks interesting in a visualization, and have an answer delivered. Most of the business people I know struggle to understand if the data in their system is accurate and limited expertise to understand the mathematical processes which churn away to display an “answer.”

The reference to SAP is fascinating, but I think of IBM-type systems as somewhat out of step with the more sophisticated tools available to deal with certain data problems. In short, SAP is an artifact of an earlier era, and its lessons, even when understood, have been inadequate in the era of real time data analysis.

Let me be clear: Data governance is a management malarkey. Look closely at organizations which are successful. Peer inside their data environments. When I have looked, I have seen clever solutions to specific problems. The cleverness can create its own set of challenges.

The difference between a Google and a Qwant, a LookingGlass Cyber and IBM i2, or Amazon and Wal-Mart is not Big Data. It is not the textbook definition of “governance.” Success has more to do with effective problem solving on a set of data required by a task. Google sells ads and deals with Big Data to achieve its revenue goals. LookingGlass addresses chat information for a specific case. Amazon recommends products in order to sell more products.

Experts who invoke governance on a broad scale as a management solution are disconnected from the discipline required to identify a problem and deal with data required to solve that problem.

Few organizations can do this with their “content management systems”, their “business intelligence systems,” or their “product information systems.” Why? Talking about a problem is not solving a problem.

Governance is wishful thinking and not something that is delivered by a consultant. Governance is an emergent characteristic of successful problem solving. Governance is not paint; it is not delivered by an MBA and a PowerPoint; it is not a core competency of jargon.

In Harrod’s Creek, governance is getting chicken to the stores in the UK. Whoops. That management governance is not working. So much in modern business does not work very well.

Stephen E Arnold, February 27, 2018

IBM Management: The Buffalo Chicken Wing Delivery Method

February 26, 2018

I love IBM. I miss my three IBM PC 704 servers which ran the Threat Open Source Intelligence Gateway for years. Toasty puppies were they. I wondered about IBM’s ability to management development projects when I tried to figure out how Serveraid could lose data so reliably. Oh, well.

I read “IBM Buffalo Billion Project Fails to Deliver.” I know. The association with chicken wings that fail to arrive was not the best metaphor. Perhaps it was the lake effect?

The article’s main idea struck me as IBM’s selling a project and then running into itself. The project was a state funded deal. The idea was to create jobs in booming Buffalo. The article points out:

The company would set up an office downtown, Cuomo announced, with $55 million in state funding for computer equipment and renovations to office space in Key Center at Fountain Plaza. In exchange, IBM promised to create 500 jobs over five years; these positions, one state memo noted, would pay, on average, $70,000 a year. Nothing in IBM’s agreement with the state, however, requires the company to create any particular kind of jobs or specifies how much they will pay.

A former employee described as a “permatemp” without benefits observed:

“‘Y’all know we got bamboozled, right?’”

IBM was to provide services like a customer call center or help desk. The training program reminded me of the IBM documentation to the quad core PC 704s; for example, the article points out:

Their training mostly involved watching PowerPoint presentations. One mislabeled the state Department of Environmental Conservation, calling it the Department of Energy Conservation. Some slides noted that IBM was “still waiting on more information.” Others outlined state programs, only to add “the IBM service desk does not have access to this tool.” Other training sessions took place over speakerphone, sometimes with more than 70 people huddled together, trying to keep quiet so everyone could hear, some taking notes with pen and paper because they were still waiting for their computers.

I noted this interesting factoid in the write up, which, I assume, is actual factual:

The deal with IBM was brokered by former SUNY Polytechnic President Alain Kaloyeros, before his arrest on federal and state corruption charges in late 2016.

Ah, IBM. Let’s ask Watson what’s going on. On second thought, let’s not.

Stephen E Arnold, February 26, 2018

Google: What We Have Here Is a Failure to Innovate

February 23, 2018

Google is one of the top technology companies in the world and their services are employed on nearly every computer, phone, and tablet. Google is at the most innovative when it comes to developing new technology, but a former Google insider said the opposite. Steve Yegge writing for Medium explains his Google experience in his article, “Why I Left Google To Join Grab.”

Yegge loved Google and still considered it to be one of the best places in the world to work, but he left for some good reasons:

“The main reason I left Google is that they can no longer innovate. They’ve pretty much lost that ability. I believe there are several contributing factors, of which I’ll list four here. First, they’re conservative…Second, they are mired in politics, which is sort of inevitable with a large enough organization; the only real alternative is a dictatorship, which has its own downsides. Third, Google is arrogant…But fourth, last, and probably worst of all, Google has become 100% competitor-focused rather than customer focused.”

Google has reached the apex of its innovative spirit and has gone the way over all corporations and, arguably, politicians. Google has grown so big and powerful, hires the top players in the field, and controls so many products/services that it does not want to lose face, its employees have ego problems, and they serve the almighty dollar. It is a repetitious pattern that has been playing out for ages. One of the greatest examples was the British Empire. The British Empire became so big and powerful that the resources were spread too thin, the ruling parties were arrogant, the subjects suffered, and those in power never wanted it to change. It sounds like Google, does it not?

Yegge then talked about the new endeavor called Grab and stresses the importance of keeping your ear to the ground in order to make and grow a business. Google has gotten too big, but it still has a lot of powerful and it will be awhile before it falls. Another company will pick up the slack. Someone always does.

Whitney Grace, February 23, 2018

Google Takes On Russia In Epic Fight

February 1, 2018

It is foolish to challenge Russia to a fight.  Napoleon lost his throne because he tried to invade Russia during winter.  Hitler pissed off Stalin during World War II, so Russia switched sides, then the Nazis invaded in winter.  It is a really bad idea to invade Russia, especially in winter.  Google is duking it out with Russia, but this war is digital so maybe Alphabet stands a chance.  The Washington Report discusses the wired Cold war in, “Google Is Getting Pulled Into A Fight With Russia Over RT And Sputnik.”  The real battle is with two Russian news outlets RT and Sputnik, but they are owned by the government.

The reason for battle is due to Russians apparent and supposed influence on US politics-most notably, the 2016 presidential election.  Russia is accused of spreading the fake news through RT and Sputnik.  News outlets like Google News pick these up and are pushed to US readers.  Russia is threatening to retaliate if Google pushes RT and Sputniks’ ratings lower in search rankings.  Google decided to curb fake news stories that could be weaponized information against the US.  Russia’s RT and Sputnik are amongst those that distribute fake news.

When asked why Russian-backed sites enjoy favorable placement on Google’s platforms, Schmidt said, ‘We are working on detecting this kind of scenario … de-ranking those kinds of sites. It’s basically RT and Sputnik are the two.’ He added that the company does not want to ban the outlets. And according to Google, the company does not re-rank individual websites.

Russia is, of course, is not happy.  They claim that Google is being discriminatory and are demanding that Eric Schmidt explain himself.  Google just wants to curb fake news and also make sure their platform is not used for nefarious purposes.  Good luck, Google.  Russia is hard to defeat, but how do they stand on the digital front?

Whitney Grace, February 1, 2018

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