Mini Review Of ‘In The Plex’

1273638_10152152826505828_1292010602_oI highly recommend this book, it’s long, but there is a lot to cover as the history and scope of Google is fascinating.  Even for such a long book, it’s often short on the details though, so follow up research is probably something to look forward to. 

The history of Google contrasts nicely with the history of Twitter, which I recently read.  Twitter was hatched by a bunch of rebels who could hack together a working web site.  They created Twitter more as a hobby than out of a vision of how they were going to change the world.  Google by contrast was created by first class computer scientists with a clear product vision and a broad mission that would guide their company for decades.  Where it was the users of Twitter that created the innovative use cases that drove most of it’s success (often resisted by the founders) the Google founders drove their business forward in ways their users would never have anticipated.

The most startling difference was how the two companies were staffed.  Google wanted to be like a university, they recruited top computer scientists from the top universities and then young graduates who would be guided by them.  The top requirement for the graduates was that they be smart and able to ‘get things done’.  Twitter by contrast wanted people who had rebelled against the system, the kind of people who saw Google as stuffy and bureaucratic.

As a result Google built perhaps the best and largest IT infrastructure in the world, while Twitter struggled to keep their site up.  In fairness Twitter has now grown up as a company and seems to have a great infrastructure, albeit tiny by comparison with Google’s.

There are a number of themes that dominate my reading of the book. 

  1. Google’s amazing infrastructure and the ‘learning machine’ that runs on top of it.  One surprising fact was that Google is the largest manufacturer of server hardware in the wolrd and they only have one customer, themselves!
  2. The focus the founders had on doing good in the world, on making the lives of their users better
  3. The clear mission that drove the early days of the company and still guides it today
  4. The absolute obsession with automation and scalability in everything Google does, that started when the company was very small.  Larry in particular new that to succeed in the mission they would need to scale fast
  5. The strong culture that Larry and Sergey envisaged for the company and the lengths they went to to preserve it as the company grew
  6. The absolute respect that Google has for it’s engineers as their key to success, looking after their every need, I particularly liked how the amazing working conditions helped to make the relatively poor new starters equally pampered compared to the millionaires and billionaires, at least until they arrived home.
  7. Larry’s approach to solving problems – see if there’s a more ambitious problem that we can solve that solves the smaller one
  8. The sometimes difficult, but ultimately successful dynamic between the founders Larry and Sergey and Eric Schmidt who provided the much needed ‘adult supervision’ until Larry was ready to become CEO again
  9. Larry’s stupendous ambition and leadership and his willingness to keep pushing the boundaries of Google’s mission into new and unexpected areas

The photo today is of the beautiful Cleveleys beach where I sat in the car with my laptop on my knees writing this post.  I often work out of the car on lovely sunny days like today, parked up right on the sea front and just a short hop away from the best cafe on the coast where I get fed and spend hours reading.

Steve Richards

I'm retired from work as a business and IT strategist. now I'm travelling, hiking, cycling, swimming, reading, gardening, learning, writing this blog and generally enjoying good times with friends and family

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