Midnight on Tuesday night at Steve Yegge’s house may not have been exactly stripped from the opening scenes of Cameron Crowe’s “Jerry Maguire,” but I’d like to believe it was. A passionate employee bent over his computer pounding out his vision to save his beloved company from peril.
I’m not sure if Yegge interrupted his fervent writing spree to assume yoga positions, as Jerry Maguire did, but his memo about Google+ shook the tech community as much as Maguire’s memo shook the fictional sports agency world.
The only difference: Yegge does not seem in danger of being fired and forced to start up his own tech company with a spunky sidekick/secretary. (At least not yet). But his missive left me cheering for Yegge, imaging a Hollywood symphony swelling to a crescendo when I reached the final line: “But we've gotta start doing this right.”
To recap for the non-tech-obsessed: An engineer at Google, Yegge poured out his angst about the struggling Google+ on Google+. His diatribe was meant for Google employees only, but even Yegge can’t figure out how to use the platform and he mistakenly made it public. He took it down, but nothing dies on the Internet, so copies are still posted all over Google+. (He also has an archive of long posts around the Web, most amusingly “Stevey's Drunken Blog Rants” about his time at Amazon.)
His Google+ post is a fascinating glimpse inside the world of one of the largest tech companies. It’s long, but worth reading — even if you don’t understand half the tech jargon (I write about the Internet, and there were parts I stumbled over). By the time you reach the end, you’ll be cheering for Yegge too.
While there’s plenty for the tech crowd to enjoy (especially the inside gossip on Amazon and CEO Jeff Bezos, or “Dread Pirate Bezos,” in Yegge’s words), what stuck out to me were the simple rules he laid out for thinking about how a company should be run. Some of his suggestions:
1) Invite outside help
“Facebook is successful because they built an entire constellation of products by allowing other people to do the work,” Yegge writes.
2) We all want different experiences
“Facebook is different for everyone. Some people spend all their time on Mafia Wars. Some spend all their time on Farmville. There are hundreds or maybe thousands of different high-quality time sinks available, so there's something there for everyone.”
3) Do not try to guess what people want
“The problem is that we are trying to predict what people want and deliver it for them . . . There have been precious few people in the world, over the entire history of computing, who have been able to do it reliably. Steve Jobs was one of them. We don't have a Steve Jobs here.”
4) Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate
Yegge gets really tech-y in his examples here, but suffice it to say, Google engineers do not share a common platform. They exist in individual silos, creating numerous great products, but not working in a way that can be shared across the company, or with anyone else for that matter.
5) Commit a PR disaster? Admit it. And stop talking.
Yegge wrote a mea culpa the next day and praised Google PR for not coming down on him. He took the post offline but let others keep their copies. And then he stopped ranting and presumably went back to work. If only some politicians could learn from his example. When you make a mistake, the more you talk about it, the longer the story lives.
In fact, I’d go so far as to say, for all his complaints about the company, Yegge does a pretty great job making Google seem like an incredible place to work.