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Eric Schmidt Steps Down from Alphabet’s Board of Directors (twitter.com)
360 points by azhenley 4 hours ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 155 comments

Eric Schmidt was the anti-piracy leader who dismissed privacy concerns.

"If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place."


Keep in mind this is the same guy who blackballed CNET reporters for finding personal information on him through google search.


The guy represents every wrong with tech. Privacy for him, but none for thee. And that's not even including on his shady ties to government.

> Eric Schmidt was the anti-piracy leader who dismissed privacy concerns.

You mean anti-privacy I think? It took me way too long to get there.

This is of course extremely subjective, and I have no knowledge of what Google was and is on the inside except for a short internship almost 10 years ago: I somehow always felt that Google with Eric Schmidt as a CEO was a much different Google than later on. Under Eric Schmidt, Google seemed like this extremely innovative company with the brightest minds in the industry. Afterwards, it seemed to instead grow into just another corporation.

Though maybe that's just what growth does in general.

EDIT: I singled out Larry Page before, but that's a bit skewed, given that he founded Google and was its CEO for the first few years.

The other big thing was Larry pushed social on the company without really understanding social as a product, and was absolutely unable to handle the huge negative response both internally and externally to that push. This all happened at the same time Microsoft and Amazon committed to Cloud (which Google has only tepidly adopted).

The one time I met with Schmidt to explain my cloud project, he was delighted and encouraging and helped shape the design in a way that made it much more effective. He was a very effective leader (although not everybody agrees- some people think he's an arrogant asshole).

I think Page had the right idea, because if you look nowadays at people under 30 for them the Internet is represented by social networks, be it Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp or even Snapchat, the internet/web represented by the browser and by visiting different websites via Google is no longer that important. I think Page realized that if Google doesn't hop on the social train they'll end up looking from the outside at a flowering walled garden in which they will have almost no relevance.

I think they had a similar idea after Apple's iPhone started gaining traction, it's only that in the case of Android Google's execution was an order of magnitude better compared to what they did with Google+. I wouldn't put the blame for the failure of Google+ on Page only, I'd also assign it to Gundotra, after all he was the man directly in charge of it all, Page's fault is that he chose and supported the wrong man for the job.

None of G+ was Page's idea. There was a product manager (who left for facebook!) who did the big pitch deck that got it rolling. Then they put Vic Gundotra in charge and gave him carte blanche to modify multiple products. I agree that was the wrong person for the job. But you can't even imagine the amount of groupthink and ego that Vic surrounded himself with.

I don't think it was super-obvious 10 years ago, but social has turned out to be a growth product that led to a minefield for the successful companies (look at Twitter and Facebook now) because the growth strategies were so sketchy that people and the government ultimately had to reject them.

Ultimately, it's on Page, though. He stood up at TGIF and told all the player to "get along" when Search had made a coherent argument that coupling the Social brand with search was brand suicide. I think Google could have made a much less obnoxious social network, maybe it would have been good, but without aggressive growth strategies, it wouldn't have been popular (a lot changed since the Orkut days, most people forget Google had a social network with half a billion users at one point!)

> None of G+ was Page's idea. There was a product manager (who left for facebook!)

Didn't know that, it's cool to learn about it.

About Twitter and FB being on a minefield I agree, but I don't think that will lead to any serious consequences for them, because there's almost no political will to make things right and that happens because the voters themselves (those FB and Twitter users) have almost no interest in how those companies reached their present size. In the end any skilled politician can smell that there's no sense in going to war against a company (or against a communication medium) that consumes at least 3 or 4 hours per day, on average, of their voters' time, it's like a US politician going to war against television in the 1960s, backed when TV had just emerged, it would be public opinion suicide.

Retrospectively I still do think that Page had the right idea to try and force Social (back at that time I also thought it as a crazy idea), like I said, I think that he had sensed that Search will be of almost no use in a world where the internet/web is not represented by websites anymore. I do agree though that even as seen from the outside Page could have done a much better job of getting the Google employees behind him and behind his idea, I think that that wood and arrows metaphor he used was really, really poor and, frankly speaking, quite condescending.

The "trouble" with Orkut was the large majority of those users were outside the United States. Brazil and later India made up the majority.

Those eyeballs weren't worth as much to advertisers, and I don't think Google valued the product highly because of it.

> Those eyeballs weren't worth as much to intelligence agencies

That was because you couldn't "sign up" for Orkut. You had to receive an invitation from someone who already has an account. Therefore it spread in regions where people knew one another, instead of spreading smoothly.

The reason why they kept it like that was because of the processing power that was needed to serve the pages. That was more than search. Every individual had to be served a different page. And computing at that time weren't as cheap.

Facebook was the first social network where you can actually go and signup an account on your own. And they did it by heavily optimizing their code and hardware. That was a separate challenge, which seemed to me Google was unwilling to take for Orkut or anything social at that time.

That's what I felt was happening as an outsider.

>Facebook was the first social network where you can actually go and signup an account on your own.

That's doubly false :)

First, all social networks that preceded it (LiveJournal and MySpace were big amongst my peers) had open sign-ups.

Second, Facebook became popular because the sign-up was not open. You needed to have an .edu email address to sign up. This was a feature, as it kept parents and younger siblings off the networks. Having a FB account was a literal right of passage, something you can only get once you go to college. It spread because of that; those were the great days of FB.

> Facebook was the first social network where you can actually go and signup an account on your own

Myspace, Friendster, Bebo…

> Google could have made a much less obnoxious social network

Even today, I think YouTube has a great potential for becoming a better social network, than G+ ever was.

YouTube has been a bustling social network for years. Not everyone gets involved with the social part of it, but it's there.

That’s interesting. I think Google would have been better aiming for something closer to Twitter instead of trying to copy and mimic Facebook with Google+. Google’s core strength has been organizing information as a data first company versus facilating social connections.

Very interesting. Social media today is a much more refined offering than google+. Google feels like microsoft nowadays. It’s something for adults to get things done. Your personal stuff happens on DM’s, instagram, snapchat, tiktok... much more so for young people. Therefore keeping search and social separated was a good thing.

Reductio ad Microsoftium.

Nah. Larry doesn't get a pass on this one. I was there at the time, and this (unlike, say, Cloud) clearly was one of "his" projects, something he pushed relentlessly and cared about a lot. That's why G+ was where you went if you wanted a quick and easy promo: you could launch a total embarrassing turd and just because Larry liked G+ that turd would be promotion worthy nevertheless.

Seeing the FB revenue figures today I can see why he cared, but I think he undermined the long term prospects of the company with this shit quite a bit, and distracted it from more valuable pursuits as well. That's all on him, not on Gundotra.

Google is not going to sell every g*damn email you ever sent for $$$, but Facebook will and does. So there was never as much profit there for Google as for Facebook because Google was run more ethically.

Never say never. Companies pretty routinely do surprisingly underhanded/unethical things once they begin to experience financial difficulties, if not on their own then under pressure from investors.

"if you look nowadays at people under 30 for them the Internet is represented by social networks, be it Facebook"

I'm not under 30, and can't really say, but I've read frequently in the media that young people don't use Facebook. I use it to a limited extent, and I think everyone I know that uses it is 30-40ish.

Why did you cut off the quote there? OP also mentioned Instagram and WhatsApp. Most people under 30 are on Instagram.

Young people use it to interact with family. Their friends are all on other networks.

I'm sure Larry Page is a smart guy, and Page Rank was clever, but I'm not really sure there's any particular reason to believe he knows where any industry is moving. Schmidt could predict technology trends well, while Page seems to just throw acquisitions at a wall, see what sticks, then sunset anything that doesn't.

most of pagerank predates larry; several people were already looking at using centrality measures for page ranking before him. And I think Brin contributed a lot more of the math and theory than Page ever did.

Remember that Larry was CEO twice: 1998-2001 and 2011-2015. During the first period Google was exceptionally innovative. During the second, Google attempted to be exceptionally innovative but largely fell flat on its face.

I'd blame size and market position more. Google was left as one of very few profitable giants standing when the dot-com crash hit, and yet they were young enough to not have the institutional inertia of Amazon, E-bay, and Yahoo. That left them exceptionally well positioned to capitalize on the Internet's deployment phase, where the technology got good enough and widespread enough to really build huge businesses off it. They managed to own the next platform (mobile) but were too large, slow, and entrenched to really understand the implications of it, and they're not even attempting to play in the cryptoverse.

> they're not even attempting to play in the cryptoverse.

They aren't even attempting to play in snake oil or astrology either

Crypto is 99% woo, but the 1% is interesting. The interesting stuff isn't world-stompingly amazing, so it gets less press. I like the idea of someday being able to take pennies worth of payments from places where transaction fees alone at traditional payment processors represent a huge % of income. Bitcoin won't be the one to do it, but some of the coins that depend on something other than proof of work might.

At least I hope it's not Bitcoin. The power use is obscene.

I'd say it's 80% woo, 1% of what you call interesting and 19% is solving real user problems with breaking the law. Mostly transactions that you can't depend on banks for - like buying drugs.

> cryptoverse

What exactly is this and what business is doing well in it?

The set of companies & foundations centered around blockchain, cryptocurrency, distributed ledgers, and related technologies. Coinbase, Binance, CoinMarketCap are doing great, Bitmain would be doing great except they made a terrible bet on Bitcoin Cash, a number of other organizations (VeChain, IOTA, Ripple, Stellar, Ethereum) are doing "we'll see", and still others (Bitfinex, Tether, Bitcoin Cash, Bitcoin SV) are imploding dramatically.

Looks like the only ones doing well are the traders.

Nah, it's the folks who sell shovels to the traders.

Just like every other gold rush in history. Fortunes get created, but often not for the folks who think they're going to get rich.

Cryptocurrencies. For example Coinbase is doing well—raised $300M on a $8B valuation: http://fortune.com/2018/10/30/coinbase-series-e-funding/

Google's market cap is 850B. The existence of some very successful companies in crypto does not mean that Google made a mistake by not jumping on that train.

Raising a bunch of money at a high valuation isn't enough to make a company "very successful" either.

I am assuming he is referring to cryptocurrencies & blockchain tech. There are plenty of businesses doing well but that's irrelevant. Waiting for established businesses in a growing space before jumping in isn't very innovative.

This is an interesting point: is it innovative to jump into any new thing regardless of its actual potential? You could claim that yes, it is. I would argue that it actually isn't. The key to innovation is to be able to correctly evaluate where there are real opportunities for innovative technologies. It's possible "the cryptoverse" will eventually show that it has such potential, but it has stubbornly refused to do that for the near decade that I've been paying attention to it, despite metric gob-tons of money and hype being thrown at it.

On the other hand, in the same time period (actually in a shorter time period!), machine learning driven technologies like voice and image recognition have gone from sci-fi to commonplace. I ask: which is more innovative?

Jumping into a new thing regardless of its potential is a necessary, not sufficient, component of innovation.

If you wait until it's obvious to everyone that something's a good idea, you're not being innovative, you're just an opportunist. Similarly, if it turns out that it's not actually a good idea, you're not being innovative, you've just wasted a whole lot of time.

Innovation happens at the intersection of contrarian & right. You have to be willing to stake your time, energy, and ego on an idea that many people believe is bad, impossible, or not worth it (otherwise it would've been done already), but you also have to be right in your judgment.

I'm confused by all the assumptions in this thread, including

1. That Google didn't research crypto internally and purposely decide not to pursue it.

2. That crypto is worth staking Google's time, energy, and ego on.

3. That crypto involvement is a direct reason a company is or is not innovative.

Hard lesson learned from a couple of research projects within Google and then again from my first couple years as an entrepreneur:

Internal research is useless.

The only way to know whether a new idea will work is to try it: put some minimal form of it in front of people and see if they actually get use it. People are complex; sometimes they do things that all rational thought says they shouldn't (buying Bitcoin and investing in ICOs would both fit into that category, IMHO), and many times they don't do things that all rational analysis says they should (I participated in research projects while at Google for both micropayments for content and for labeling trustworthy sources on the results, both of which most people would agree are good goals but neither of which has ever worked, and I founded a startup afterwards to provide career guidance to undergrads, which every adult we talked to said "I love what you're doing, and totally wish that existed when I was a student" and every student said "I love that idea and would totally use it", and then promptly never looked at it again once we built it.)

There's no guarantee that external research works either, but at least you've learned something applicable to the next idea.

> The only way to know whether a new idea will work is to try it: put some minimal form of it in front of people and see if they actually get use it.

And then get skewered left and right for shutting down products? You can't have it both ways.

Exactly. I don't think Google is making the wrong choice, given their size and prominence. I do think that making the right choice means that they inevitably lose their ability to innovate, and hence miss out on the next technology choice.

> Internal research is useless.

> The only way to know whether a new idea will work is to try it: put some minimal form of it in front of people and see if they actually get use it.

And in the face of a universe of potential ideas how do you determine whether you invest time into prototyping pre-sneezed tissues? Internal research. You’ve just moved the goal post.

Who is making those assumptions? My comment assumed the opposite of #2 and #3.

Most people, not you :P

a) Opportunism is good business.

b) 'Wasting time' is a part of research. If you never fail, you're missing opportunities. That said, you pick your failures with the hope of getting the right kinds of wins... which brings us to...

c) Giant centralized cloud-based businesses have giant centralized and for-the-most-part trusted datastores. There's no reason to use a blockchain if a standard distributed database suits your needs. From where I sit, blockchains are mainly a solution in search of a problem.

(and just imagine the press cycles if a FAANG company rolled out a blockchain, and thus burnt god-knows how much coal bringing it mainstream...)

Yeah, I totally agree that for the sort of problems that Google or Amazon faces, blockchains are a terrible solution. There are well-known best practices for scalable distributed computing, and blockchains are not them.

I'm equally convinced - and I suspect I disagree with most HNers here - that there are also some problems for which blockchains are the only solution - they just don't work with centralized data stores, mostly because nobody would trust a single entity to manage that data store. Google isn't even looking for those problems. In general, Google does not look for problems, it takes problems that everybody knows about and looks for solutions. There are thousands of entrepreneurs in the cryptoverse who are looking for those problems.

There was a time, early in its history, where Google was willing to take a solution - download the web and keep only the links - and then find the problem (search) for which it was the solution. And then they leveraged that solution into all sorts of other problems - webmail, navigation & directions, news, academic papers, video, etc. But the thing is that this is a risky business: most solutions in search of a problem don't actually solve anything, so the time spent solving them is wasted.

It's just so hard to imagine, at least in the current version of the world, a problem for which a distributed trust algorithm is the right solution, instead of a centralized one, probably state-owned if high levels of trust are needed. This is especially true given the advantages that a trusted authority has over blind consensus (e.g. the ability to revert fraudulent transactions).

I assume this refers to cyptocurrency-related businesses. ICOs ('initial coin offerings') collected around $5.6 billion and most of them never delivered any real product: https://www.coinwire.com/ey-report-finds-most-2017-icos-fail...

One could argue that getting enormous amounts of money without needing to produce any results for it is the very definition of "doing well".

I hope there aren't too many people who define "doing well" that way. Seems like it would lead to a total breakdown of the social fabric.

>they're not even attempting to play in the cryptoverse.

Which is a good thing considering how much of the population's life is already intertwined with and recorded by Google. I can't imagine anything more dystopian than a Google issued currency.

Google also grew to dominate the browser market during 2011-2015.

Through Chrome, which was started internally in 2006 and launched externally in 2008. Though that also was one of those projects where Larry sponsored a couple of talented engineers behind Eric's back and they put out something awesome.

Behind Eric's back? A company that has tens of thousands of employees and you think the co-founder would have to hide a small initial implementation of a project he believed in?

There's no way Google had tens of thousands of employees in 2006. Although it was probably large enough (between 5,000 and 10,000) that your point still stands.

Yes it is quite amazing how they have almost complete browser dominance and video content creation/hosting dominance as well as search dominance but are unable to come up with even a simple in browser tipping system to hedge against the downfall of their almost entirely ad based revenue.

> unable to come up with even a simple in browser tipping system to hedge against the downfall of their almost entirely ad based revenue

Google has launched multiple micropayment products as replacements for ads. Nobody uses them.

You're assuming that an "in browser tipping system" is a viable hedge to the also assumed downfall of their ad based revenue.

Well Patreon is proving to be somewhat successful, I don't see why something similar, or donation/tipping shouldn't be easy to incorporate.

Patreon launched in 2013 and estimates $1 billion in total payments to creators by the end of 2019. That averages out to $166M/year. Google reported $30 billion in ad revenue for Q1 2019, that's 6 years of Patreon transaction activity compressed into 3 days (or their entire 2019 activity of $500M in payments in less than 2 days).

Can you still extrapolate from this that the tipping model is even anywhere near a threat to Google's ad based business model that they should be incorporating it? And is it even an apples to apples comparison? Many creators don't use Patreon in spite of or to replace ads, they use it as a supplement.

Moreover, just because something is technically simple to integrate, doesn't automatically make it the correct business decision to do so.

First of all, I guarantee a native Youtube donation/subscription/tipping service would already have far more users than Patreon even does currently (see twitch.tv for a great model) due the enormous network effect Youtube already has. Second of all, $1 billion and growing rapidly for a third party service. Nearly every quality Youtube channel I am subscribed to has a patreon at this point, and I can only imagine it increasing as a percentage of income the content creator generates.

> Can you still extrapolate from this that the tipping model is even anywhere near a threat to Google's ad based business model that they should be incorporating it?

No, but we can extrapolate from twitch, and guess that it probably would be.

> Many creators don't use Patreon in spite of or to replace ads, they use it as a supplement.

Because it is a third party site, there is no such option. It would be trivial to incorporate an ad-free experience for donations/subscriptions similar to how twitch does.

>> native Youtube donation/subscription/tipping service

This exists, already competes with Twitch, and is part of an even bigger portfolio of media services from Google. You're arguing for Google to do something they have been doing for years.




Youtube is their content business division and already has tipping, superchat, subscriptions, ecommerce and premium channels. It also has ads and is highly profitable.

You're vastly overestimating what people will actually pay for and underestimating how big and critical the ads industry is.

Then they should just buy Patreon like they bought YouTube. Why risk failure if that’s actually a good hedge? A: It probably isn’t a good hedge because they know Patreon can’t even remotely scale to the size of the AdWords business. People just generally don’t want to pay much for content. Better would be leveraging subscriptions and then developing a money distribution process to support the content people will come for. I think they are trying with YouTube TV and Red.

There have been experiments that you probably didn't hear about. I liked the old version of Google Contributor, but apparently few others did.

Are you talking about contributor.google.com?

Corporations are not meant to disrupt themselves. It just doesn't happen.

Google has been an ad company from the time they IPO’d until today when 85% of their revenue is still from ads.

From a business side, they really haven’t done too much.

What's the evidence to any of that?

What's with the persistent narrative of google not being "just another company" and then (sadly?) becoming one? that's some fairytale nonsense.

There’s plenty of anecdata from the employees. When I first joined Google 9 years ago I was terrified of not being as good to google as google was to me. I bled the google colors.

The last time someone asked me what it’s like to work there, I said “it’s just a job” on instinct.

There is nothing wrong with being "just a job", it most likely always was, the rest was just in your head.

It's better for the company to help the delusional embrace the "it's just a job" mentality ASAP so that they and the rest of us might be spared the weekly public hissy fit.

So, a few years ago, someone mentioned something very similar, and I asked them to elaborate because I was curious.

This was their response: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14540332

It's well worth a read.

I worked at Novell while Eric Schmidt was the CEO. I thought he was a great leader and enjoyed working at Novell while he lead the company; in spite of the fact that my direct boss was an oversized tube of ass paste.

I liked Google as a company a lot better during Schmidt's tenure as well. Best of luck to him in his next role.

Larry hasn't been the Google CEO for some time now. I do think the company got caught up in incremental goals and internal PC struggles during Sundar's time, making it feel like yet another large company rather than a powerful disruptor it used to be.

> internal PC struggles

There's plenty of reasons for why they started taking place, that have nothing to do with who is CEO. Societal expectations have changed, formerly unpopular ideas gained both a voice, and mindshare, and Google's influence over the Internet has grown - and with it, expectations that that influence should be wielded responsibly.

Intelligent people strongly disagree as to what 'responsibly' means in this context.

Do you think Oracle encourages the sort of open internal debate culture that precipitated that well-known incident?

The responsibility for corporate culture is ultimately with the CEO and the board.

Do you think Google would have attracted the talent it did with a culture like oracle's?

Good riddance. Among other problems, Schmidt was one of the organizers of the "no poaching" scandals:


He also wrote this, to make it clear that he knew he was doing wrong: [let's share this with competitors] "verbally, since I don't want to create a paper trail over which we can be sued later?"

That wasn't just him, it was the whole valley.

Okay - good riddance to him and the rest of the valley :-)

"No poaching" is underselling it. It was wage fixing plain and simple.

He was also the one who, with a straight face, said "if you don't have anything to hide, you don't have anything to fear" in response to widespread surveillance. Of course, he would not then open himself up to any scrutiny.

That's not what he said at all, even remotely. He said "If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place" and that was largely in the context that no matter what Google does, the American government can come in and take any information they want that is stored on Google's servers with very little recourse.

"-- Google Inc.'s top three executives agreed in 2004 to work together at the Internet search and advertising giant for at least 20 years, a company spokesman confirmed on Wednesday."


Google seems to be falling flat on its face growth-wise. Its ad revenue is down, its Pixel 3 platform fell completely flat, it shuttered Google + and had a security breach?

How can you have a large scale security breach with a brutal tech hiring process, sky high salaries and a whitepaper-producing workforce? Hell, when you interview at much smaller firms, the tech groups copycat the Google hiring techniques, that's the extent of the influence. Google is a reference implementation that everyone copycats.

Then is the Pixel 3's lack of creative innovation symbolic of a strong tech culture that seems to prize science and tech over creativity? For reference, they copied the iPhone in numerous ways aesthetically and marketing-wise: the size is identical, glass replaced metal, the price was pumped up to make it appear premium, even the color names have goofy Apple-y names, etc.

> Its ad revenue is down

Ad revenue is not down. Ad revenue is growing slower than in the past.

> How can you have a large scale security breach with a brutal tech hiring process, sky high salaries and a whitepaper-producing workforce?

Security is stupendously hard. It is also not a stable state. Software engineering as a discipline does not have methods of turning dollars into security with confidence. There is no company on the planet that avoids getting pwned.

> Ad revenue is growing slower than in the past.

It's also a second degree derivative, which is inherently noisy. A single data point isn't enough to show a trend.

> Security is stupendously hard.

It also wasn't a breach. Breach implies it was exploited. They actually found the bug and fixed it, and there was as far as they could there no signs that it was abused.

Google has some of the best security security researchers out there. Look at Project Zero, they've found the majority of the largest zero days in the past few years.

> there was as far as they could there no signs that it was abused

As would be expected from the class of hackers that would be able to exploit it.

Well let’s look at the more important number that is down. Net income is down year over year as are margins.


Complete aside: all of my friends/acquaintances who work for Google (and in full disclosure, they're generally not engineers) unequivocally agree that Google could fire 30% of their workforce with no disruption in service/revenue.

They've become bloated.

> Google could fire 30% of their workforce with no disruption in service/revenue.

Isn't that true for a large amount of large tech companies?

I was under the impression that a large amount of the workers are working on incremental improvements to existing services or working on new features/services entirely. If those people stop working that shouldn't disrupt the service and you shouldn't see the revenue fall until a competitor catches up & out innovates.

I think it's more that there are a large number of employees who don't actually contribute much and treat it like a retirement gig. I've seen people who are only in the office from 10-5, take long breaks for lunches, socializing, working out, massages, etc. and regularly "WFH" one day a week on top of that, and clearly aren't very productive (note: there are people who keep that kind of schedule and do get a lot done; I'm not talking about them).

It's possible to give the appearance of being busy and valuable if you make every project way more complex than it needs to be by scheduling lots of meetings that end up mostly involving bike shedding, publishing lots of design docs and spreadsheets to gain visibility, submitting mediocre code so that you can subsequently submit lots of cleanup CLs, and so on. The game is easier to play these days because the company is so large that entire teams can go off the radar and not have to be accountable.

This happens at every big company and it isn't the norm at Google, but it happens quite often. It's really hard to fire employees, and a pain for managers. It's way easier to just let them be, and for a low-mid level manager that can even make it easier for them to justify additional headcount, which makes their org bigger and increases their standing.

Why is it hard to fire employees? Workers have extremely weak protections in the United States. I never buy this argument. If google wanted to clean shop they can, other tech companies do it regularly (IBM, Oracle, etc).

In addition to what vkou said, firing individuals for low performance in the US, as opposed to mass layoffs, typically requires putting them through the PIP process (performance improvement plan), which is onerous and stressful for the manager. My limited understanding is it involves the manager, HR, and employee agreeing on a project and timeline that would constitute satisfactory performance, then constantly checking in and documenting progress. The purpose is for the company to collect proof the employee can't perform their job to indemnify themselves.

But I've seen people just temporarily work really hard and/or get lots of help while they're on a PIP, succeed at it, and then revert to old habits. In a lot of cases rather than go through the trouble to put a report through a PIP, which may not have the desired outcome anyway, the manager will just put them off in a corner and give them unimportant tasks, making it that much easier for them to just coast.

> Why is it hard to fire employees?

Because when you are billions-of-dollars profitable, and you go ahead and fire a lot of people, it tanks morale, and good performers start looking for the door. (Note: This does not hold in the middle of a recession. We aren't in the middle of a recession, though.)

Because a company could be just as successful without XY% of its workforce, but nobody can correctly identify which XY%. (This one still holds in the middle of a recession.)

Because a lot of that XY% would be more productive, if they were instructed to do something that's more useful to the bottom line.

Whether or not Google is effectively innovative is one thing, but statements like this don't offer much insight. Sure, Google can cut all the investment in R&D and keep the lights on, but that strategy isn't going to do much for the long-term future of the company.

I've heard they deliberate over-hire to capture talent, keeping them from winding up with competitors. Not sure if true, but sounds plausible. Or to be able to always have a reserve to tap if a project suddenly needs engineers.

I've spoken with people who are connected much higher up and the truth is that they could get rid of 70% plus and still bring in the same profit. The unsaid thing is that most profit is still from search ads, the rest of the spending makes it look, to Wall Street, like they have something beyond search ads and are not a one trick pony. So far they really are not and have become very bloated and inefficient, but Wall Street has been rewarding this behavior with a higher stock price....though the better thing may have been for them to just hoard the cash....especially if none of the other bets ever pan out. Some of this is the curse of being a public company and the skewed incentives.

That's probably true of most large companies.

Ironically they just purchased last year a huge block of Manhattan - presumably for even more employees[1].

1 - https://techcrunch.com/2018/03/20/google-bought-manhattans-c...

Google already has a huge amount of office space in Chelsea Market, though. That's more about owning rather than renting.

If you want to talk expansion, look at the new Hudson Square expansion about a mile south of Chelsea Market: https://www.theverge.com/2018/12/17/18144448/google-nyc-camp...

Do they know which 30%?

And yet they still don't have enough employees to enable them to follow the law, like for example not earning ad money on pirated content.

> all of my friends/acquaintances who work for Google (and in full disclosure, they're generally not engineers) unequivocally agree that Google could fire 30% of their workforce with no disruption in service/revenue.

Do all your friends who work there include themselves in the 30% by any chance? I assume not. And I also assume whoever you ask they will also say 30% could be fired, but they will then also all say it should not of course be themselves...

Alphabet's CFO blamed the ad revenue drop primarily on Youtube and specifically recent changes in their Youtube algorithm (which paradoxically now favors advertiser-friendly, sanitized mainstream media channels). Apparently "cleaning things up for advertisers" leads to less money from advertisers.

> a security breach

Wasn't it a security vulnerability? IIRC they were returning data they shouldn't have for some calls, but didn't have conclusive evidence that anyone had ever made those calls because of log rotation policies. (Maybe I misremembered, or maybe you're talking about a different issue?)

yup that's how I remember it as well

Waymo is looking like it took the wrong direction too. So bad news all around

Its ad revenue growth rate decelerated, is what I believe you meant to say...

"After over 18 years on the Board, Eric Schmidt is not seeking re-election at the expiration of his current term on June 19, 2019. He will continue as a technical advisor to Alphabet. Eric has served as a member of the Board since March 2001. He was Google’s Chief Executive Officer from July 2001 to April 2011, and its Executive Chairman from April 2011 until January 2018."

From the press release: https://abc.xyz/investor/news/releases/2019/0430/

I'm starting to read "When Google Met WikiLeaks" by Assange. In this book Schmidt is the villain. It will be nice to match Assange's point of view with all the eulogies that we will read about Schmidt now.

BTW, here is an excerpt of the book: https://wikileaks.org/google-is-not-what-it-seems/

Schmidt's involvement with US's politics is strange, especially for the business leader: he met with Assange, he went to North Korea.

There was a hilarious moment at the company meeting when rank-and-file learned from the news that Eric and Larry met with Trump. Somebody demanded explanation, as if it is something strange that business leaders meet with the president. Sundar mumbled something like "yes, I didn't know they are going to meet, but this was a single meeting and many business leaders attended...". Eric rushed on stage and said "To clarify: I met with President Trump more than once, bla bla".

Schmidt is like Bloomberg. They aspired to geopolitical power as their ambition exceeded what was available in the business world. Bloomberg had the weird twist of trying to buy his way into British royalty, while Schmidt wants to be "in the room where it happens" from USA to North Korea.

Schmidt is a defense establishment insider, since, at least, his time at Sun. Having just finished Trillion Dollar Coach I can reaffirm that I am no fan of Schmidt as pop business book guy. But he's less wrong than Assange.

Really enjoyed listening to this recent interview with Eric Schmidt.

I’d never heard of Bill Campbell before, seems like he was a huge influence around Silicon Valley.


For a counterpoint on Campbell as a terrific business coach read "Hatching Twitter" [1]. He was hired as Ev Williams' coach and the picture the book paints is bad. Working more for the board of directors instead the person he was hired to help. Telling Williams he was doing great then reporting to the board he was doing terrible.

The book is also a great way to understand why Twitter is such a shit show of an organization. The fundamental mismanagement from day one until now also shows the power of finding product/market fit. As the saying goes, you can mess everything else up and still succeed.

[1] https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18656827-hatching-twitte...

It's really hard to tell what in this book is based in fact. It's almost entirely based off of hearsay and gossip. There are interviews with people recalling minute details of conversations they had ~5 years in the past. You can call bullshit on a lot of it.

I really enjoyed this one as well. The descriptions of Jack in the book give very interesting context for evaluating some of the decisions he's made recently about hate speech and bullying on twitter.

I would love recommendations for similar books that aren't just hagiographies of startups/tech giants.

If anyone else wonder which Bill Campbell is it, I guess it is this one:


Does anyone inside Google care to share how Eric is perceived among fellow engineers?. From the outside, it seems many of the great innovations came when he wS CEO and Larry + Sergey were building the company culture.

I was there for both the end of the Eric era and the beginning of the second Larry era. I liked Eric - he was an engineer at heart, but he also was effective at making decisions, listened well, and was able to defer to subordinates when they had better ideas. Much of Google's strength came because he tolerated Larry & Sergey running around sponsoring talented engineering teams to work on crazy projects without his knowledge, which must've been challenging as a leader but was ultimately a great thing for Google.

I found Eric extremely impressive as a CEO. He always spoke with eloquence and charisma and generally seemed to have the answers and explanations when pressed.

Hard to compare Eric and Larry as CEOs because they both led at very different times in the company’s history, each with their own unique set of challenges.

it's kind of a bimodal distribution. many engineers hated him with a passion but then they would learn he wrote lex and set up early networks at Berkeley and kind of come around to the idea that he was a very successful technobusinessman who confronted Microsoft repeatedly.

I greatly miss his leadership. There was a sense that he knew how to steer the ship.

Google is an internet monopoly with data and information. I think the only reason they've come this far without being exposed as such was cooperating with the government (learning from Microsoft's mistakes when they were exposed)

What do they have a monopoly on? The claim that Google, or any FAANG company is a monopoly is absurd. A monopoly is the exclusive possession or control of the supply of or trade in a commodity or service. Google definitionally doesn’t have that, because competitors exist.

It's clear that for some people Google has become synonymous with "the Internet".

Wouldn't it need to be "the internet" for _all_ people to be a monopoly?

I'm not well-enough versed in history to follow the analogy. Are you saying Schmidt is being asked to leave because of internal differences? Did Bismarck leaving have good/bad implications after the fact that you are alluding to here?

Bismarck was a whiz of foreign policy, who had successfully juggled the alliances surrounding the (relatively nascent by European standards) German state throughout his time as a diplomat and Chancellor.

His contemporary Hohenzollern monarch (Wilhelm's II predecessor) largely allowed Bismark to take free reign over diplomacy, recognizing him as a generational talent.

If Bismarck was an ideological juggler, capable of accepting political loss in the short-term to catch out his adversaries in the long-term, Wilhelm was a firebrand, who refused to play games with "the enemy" (especially the Russians), even if they benefited the long-term survival of his state and person.

The cartoon shows Bismarck stepping off the ship, leaving Wilhelm to take over. While this is perhaps an unflattering characterization of Bismarck, it reflects that, even in 1890, it was known that Wilhelm would not be able to lead the nation better than this forcibly-retired titan of European diplomacy.

Bismarck probably could have stayed on the ship, because its sailors were largely aligned with him, but he was getting old (75 when he retired); and he tired of suffering the youth and ignorance of the not-so-subtle monarch. His most immediate, and unfortunate legacy was the black hole he left unfilled.

The aftermath was a complete lack of long-term thinking, that led to all the European countries (even Russia!! who had a hard time getting along with the UK/France in particular) agreeing to form alliances against Germany. It's quite reasonable to point to Bismarck's departure as the first big slip down the slippery slope that led to WWI.

Compare this to Eric Schmidt leaving Google (filled with young Wilhelm IIs?) how you will.

Curious who the analogous Wilhelm II is in Google today? Sundar is not one - Sundar is actually very diplomatic and strategically-minded, which is how he ended up CEO of Google in the first place (he managed to avoid all the political struggles common to Google's SVPs at the time, such that he became the obvious successor when they all left to run VCs / got fired for sexual harassment / became top brass at Yahoo/Softbank/Twitter). If anything, Larry was the Wilhelm II who picked fights with a lot of big up-and-comers, but even he was pretty restrained and strategic about it.

Google's problem now is that anything smaller than a billion-dollar business is not on their radar screen, which means that by definition they are going to miss the next growth industry. And they don't really have anyone in the company who can do anything about that, because you don't go to Google because you want to work on the small problem that might become big, you go to Google because you want to work on big problems.

Google's problem now is that anything smaller than a billion-dollar business is not on their radar screen

That seems quite wrong, given that: 1. Google can buy into growth opportunities by making aquisitions. 2. Google is invested in many, many pre-billion-dollar businesses.

I always read that time in history as Wilhelm wanting to be "The Decider" and feeling too much under Bismark's long shadow. Young leader of a young country, striving for a place in the sun.

Oh, Bismarck leaving only led to WWI, no big issues otherwise ;)

I've never understood why Bismarck doesn't get more blame for creating a system of alliances that could only be safely operated by himself.

Ever since I've first learned about his story in-depth, this idea has also fascinated me – but I've never seen anybody else raise it unprompted!

The analogy with software is right-on, in my view. He crated a system that was complex, sure, but very manageable and powerful if you understood it in sufficient detail.

For a fast-and-loose comparison, he was running foreign policy in Vim/Emacs, while his contemporaries were using Notepad, and of course he did a damned good job. His biggest fault is that he never taught any of his subordinates how to use Vim/Emacs.

He didn't seem to have a succession plan for himself. It's a mystery to me why (hubris, lack of interest?), but it regardless goes down as a fault against him, IMO.

Fascinating analogy, but you're being intriguingly vague. Come on, be honest, take your comparison one step further, a little faster and looser, and tell us what you REALLY think: do you believe Eric Schmidt is more like a Vim user or an Emacs user? And which text editor would Bismarck have used? ;)

Clearly, Bismarck would use 𝖛𝖎𝖒

gen220 does an excellent job explaining (above). Essentially, somebody who was brilliant at what they did, operating at the outer edge of their skills envelope, and no replacement at a similar skill level.

It's in many ways a good story for tech.

I understood that, I just don't understand why Bismarck is considered a diplomatic genius instead of reviled as the architect of a dangerously fragile diplomatic situation.

That's because the pointlessness of the butchery of WWI has largely been white-washed, and stripped of all context.

Every year, the British commonwealth celebrates the end of that war.

Every year, I ask why after the war, the public didn't string up every one of the leaders that was responsible for plunging the world into that pointless, industrial bloodbath. The silence I hear is, sadly, deafening.

Nobody cares to actually look at what caused that war. Nobody wants, or wanted to hold anyone accountable. The world collectively shrugged its shoulders, and forgot all about it.

Having been raised in a Commonwealth nation (Canada), I've come to realize how dreadful our education system is in teaching about WW1. That war, the events leading to it, and the events resulting from it are absolutely critical to understanding why the world is the way it is today. Everything from the Russian Revolution to the modern-day borders in the middle east to Irish independence to the reason why New York City became the financial capital of the world are a direct result of that war.

And all that schoolkids here are taught is "The noble British Empire led the glorious allied fight against some bad German people because reasons, here's some pictures of trenches, sometimes soldiers played soccer, now shut up and don't ask any more uncomfortable questions."

I also find it truly repulsive that so many people in this country keep repeating the lie that Canada was "born on Vimy Ridge", as if sending wave after wave of terrified and browbeaten conscripts to die in some shell-blasted hellhole is what "made" us. I'd argue that the true birth of Canada was the Suez Canal crisis, when we openly defied the motherland on the world stage and instead spearheaded a peaceful solution to the mess via an international consensus.

Fun fact: the Canadian politician who led that peaceful solution to the Suez crisis and would later keep Canada out of the Vietnam War, Lester Pearson, volunteered as a field medic for most of WW1. I can't think of any job more likely to permanently rewire one's brain into a "Never again!" orientation.

A genius would have built up successors to take over the system or designed it in such a way that it could be maintained lest he be hit by a bus suddenly. It is definitely a good story for tech.

Who replaces him?

Robin Washington is replacing both Eric Schmidt and Diane Greene.

Press release: https://abc.xyz/investor/news/releases/2019/0430/

So what is the moonshot failure rate now? 100%?

I still dislike that they called the company Alphabet, because it's something that we teach our youngest. Commercialization starts early.

It's meant to be alpha-bet, where alpha is investment return above benchmark.

Somehow it's strange seeing these tech giants being handed over to a new generation. Microsoft has long been associated with Gates and Balmer, Steve's DNA still runs in Apple, and Google still reminds me of Schmidt. The newer generation of executives and board directors in these companies has a very difficult task to do: stick to the past or redefine the company for the future.

Steve Jobs of course famously left Apple (not on the friendliest of terms), then returned several years later to "redefine the company for the future" (very successfully of course). His return marked a major new period for Apple, with major changes in direction and execution.

I do hope that his notions about Google's place in society goes with him. The things he wrote in 'A New Digital Age' were terrifying. Simply because they made a great amount of money, he viewed Google as the clearest guide for societies future. He advocated for Google taking an active role in attempting to shape social thinking. That might sound good to some, but I know too much history to be willing to support it. The unintended consequences that come from any attempted society-wide engineering are universally horrific.

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