Diversity at Google

So about that Google guy and his absurd fake-science rant about women. In my seven years at Google, I heard again and again from women in engineering that they felt slighted — left out of discussions, overlooked, underestimated. What happened with this post, and the author’s subsequent firing, didn’t happen in a vacuum.

Some of the best people I’ve ever worked with were women at Google: my tech writing colleagues, my first manager at DoubleClick, countless product managers and program managers and translation managers and UX designers and software engineers and women in other roles too. Women make tech better and women make Google better.

Here’s an example. Google is a global company that makes products for both women and men  — like, for example, smart phones that measure your steps. I remember a big meeting where this tech was explained: with the phone in your pocket, the accelerometer would measure each swing of your leg. But, someone asked, what about when the phone is in your purse? The guys on stage just sort of stared. Purses had not occurred to them, and they waved it off as something they’d solve later. It’s hard to imagine half the population’s needs being so easily dismissed if women had also been half the population on the engineering team.

The challenges of diversity

Diversity sometimes challenges us. I experienced this directly, and it wasn’t comfortable. I won’t go into the details, but at one point I found myself sitting in a room with an HR rep, trying to explain my way out of a comment I’d made to a female colleague in a private conversation. From her perspective, I’d questioned whether a woman could effectively lead a group of men. That wasn’t my intention, but I can see how she got there. I’d expressed myself poorly, and I take responsibility for that. But I’d also spoken against a background of pervasive, sometimes radical sexism whose extent and severity I don’t think I fully understood, and maybe I still don’t.

But you know what’s even more uncomfortable than a conversation with HR that makes you squirm and fucks up your quarterly performance review? Working an entire career in an industry and a company that makes you squirm and consistently undervalues, underrates, and underpays you because of who you are.

So I took my medicine. I defended myself, but I was also grateful to work for a company that took my colleague’s concerns seriously. There were things I needed to do better, and still are. I’m open to that. And I can think of moments across my 20 years of professional life where I’ve said sexist or racist things, or stood by while other people said them. We’re not going to make progress if we all pretend it’s someone else.

The right choice

Google made the right choice in firing the guy who wrote this manifesto, both for promoting grotesque and counterfactual stereotypes about women, and for expressing his views in a way that has been wildly disruptive to the company where he works. This isn’t, to me, a matter of free speech, nor a matter of political oppression. He wasn’t punished for his private speech or his conservatism, but for his public announcement in the workplace that he viewed a significant group of his colleagues as inherently unsuited for their work and prone to neuroticism.

It also matters that he was dead wrong. Not all viewpoints are equally valid.

I hope Google, and the larger tech world, learn from this incident. Much more needs to be done, clearly, if this sort of nonsense gains traction within the company.

For people who look like me, that means facing up to discomfort from time to time. We can handle it, though. Our women colleagues have handled it their whole careers. There’s a lot we could learn from them.


This morning I arrived at work to discover that our offices had been (further) Googlified over the weekend.

Already as soon as the merger went through, we got snack carts and huge videoconferencing monitors, and our kitchen fridges started filling up with sandwiches, sushi and organic milk from grass-fed cows.

Those were nice Google touches, but the now we’re into the visual branding phase. A number of our walls have been repainted in chipper primary colors, and our cubes all received Google nameplates (a CD case with a slip of paper inside, but still). And there’s now a Tech Stop, one of Google’s ubiquitous stations for rapid tech support.

But far weirder is the scattering of Ikea products everywhere. Google seems to have a passion for semi-disposable Swedish furniture, and especially lamps, and has kind of just tossed it wherever. There are Lyktas on the counters, Storms in the hallway, and a couple of Strannes sprouting here and there, not to mention cheery, cheap-looking tables and sofas in some of the common areas. They even took down the baby pictures that had been pasted haphazardly to a wall by the sales section, put them all in primary-colored Ikea frames, and put them back up. And of course there are lava lamps: they stuck two discreetly in our main lounge, only one of which seemed to be working when I came in.

There is something reminiscent of The Prisoner in all this, especially if you imagine this whole style translated onto a sprawling Mountainview campus traversed by golf carts. (Bizarrely enough, we were even given glowing white orbs as a welcome gift.) As in The Village, everything you need is provided for you at the Googleplex: meals, massages, a doctor, entertainment. It’s lovely and a bit infantilizing.

Am I complaining? Not really. More like adjusting. Just noticing where it jars.

[google dreams]

What could be more interesting than corporate restructuring? How ’bout other people’s dreams? Okay, how ’bout other people’s dreams about corporate restructuring? Hang on for an incredibly boring ride, ’cause this morning I awoke from a Google stress dream, about moving into the Google offices and adjusting to the Google laptops.

The Google offices were in a gigantic, cavernous version of my parents’ living room in California, with the burnt-sienna shag carpeting and the dark-brown wood. On the wall were a (fictional) pair of my father’s paintings, two additional pieces from his beach negative series: one of my mother, in a somewhat different pose than in the existing painting, and one of the Beatles. There were also very large Chinese vases arrayed on ledges up by the roof, and I found myself wondering whether I could ever claim them now that the house had been sold to Google, or whether Google got ownership of any items left inside.

The laptops involved multiple oddly shaped screens that you pulled out of the top, and they were floppy, so that to get them to stand up you had to attach various straps and kind of jury-rig the whole shebang.

There was then a debate over whether we should sit on the floor or at tables. “Why does everyone think we have to be like DreamWorks?” someone asked (apparently in my dreams the DreamWorks people sit on the floor). “Well,” I suggested, “it’s also all the Indian decor in here.” Then I worried that I had somehow insulted our Indian engineers.

In the end it was decided that we would sit at the tables, which somehow made our laptops normal again. Then I woke up.


“There will be reductions in headcount.” So declared Eric Schmidt back on March 11, and so it has been.

Let me start by saying that I survived. I will be staying on as a Googler.

There. Now I can tell the story.

The last three weeks have been difficult. There were rumors and more rumors, but nobody really knew anything, except for our senior managers, who were making themselves scarce. Then we were told that this week, instead of our usual monthly planning sessions, we’d have a week to work on “system stability” — a particularly absurd euphemism for sitting on our hands and waiting for a moment of extreme instability.

Last Friday, some old-timers threw an End of the World as We Know It party in a back room. Then on Tuesday — April Fool’s Day — was the DoubleClick Schwag Party, at which old-timers (myself included) put our DoubleClick promotional gear on display for a sort of last corporate hurrah. (I contributed my yo-yo and slinky, and also my Camp Day T-shirts from 1999 and 2000. There was no Camp Day in 2001 because they were already laying people off that summer.)

I’d been trying to keep working, but it hasn’t been easy, in part because so many others have been kind of shut down. My job involves asking lots of people for information, and many of them were just not willing to bother when they weren’t sure that they, or I, would be around at the end of the week. Even so, I started my Wednesday morning doing actual work.

That quickly came to a halt as knots of people began to gather. The layoffs had begun. Word trickled to us that finance had been hit. Sales too. We began to see people walking by with the dreaded white envelopes that contained the Google severance package. (Only later did we learn that some of these were contracts, not straight-up layoffs.) The mood went from tense to grim to borderline hysterical. Emails came in from longtime veterans sending out general farewells. People were in tears — some who had been let go, and some who were still waiting to hear. I waited it out at my desk, wondering when I would finally get the call.

At last my old boss, now a VP, came by to inform me that everyone who was getting news had gotten news — that I was, in other words, a survivor. Others were learning the same thing, and a kind of shell-shocked giddiness began to steal over those of us who remained, mixed with survivor’s guilt. In engineering, which is my part of the company, relatively few jobs were cut. No one on the documentation team (at least in New York) lost their jobs, though two of us were offered only contracts. Still, that made it all the more humiliating for those who had to go.

Google has for the most part been generous with both its layoff package and its contract package (for employees who will be phased out). I won’t go into details there, but they’ve been non-evil, though not exactly milk-and-cookies fuzzy-wuzzy (Google is a business).

On Thursday we received our official offer letters, and information about orientation at Google (mine is on Tuesday). I am satisfied that I’ve received a very, very good offer.

I guess I’m a Googler now. For the moment, though, I have that post-finals feeling of exhaustion and emotional collapse. I have a cold, and I just want to go home and sleep.


It occurs to me that this post, more than most, is likely to be read by people who don’t know me. There are a lot of folks out there trying to dig up whatever gossip they can about the whole Google-DoubleClick merger so they can post it on their terribly insidery industry blogs. Already I’m reading plenty of ill-informed mutterings about how DoubleClickers will be miserable at Google, how Googlers are already miserable at Google, how Google is due for a culture shift to something grim and hideous, etc.

My own experience of Googlers is that they are curious about DoubleClick, a company that theirs bought for $3.1 billion because we built something they were unable to replicate. They are also generally happy with life at Google. They are not, as a rule, snooty dickheads.

Secondly, it has somehow become blogosphere lore that Clickers had to reapply for our jobs and go through interviews. This is only half true. Yes, we submitted resumes of a sort, listing past experience and also what we’d done at DoubleClick in the past year. But I don’t know of anyone who went through an actual interview. There was no ritual humiliation.

I for one am looking forward to life as a Googler. It’ll be interesting. Is it a trip to heaven? Probably not. Is it a reasonable job? Probably. So yeah, if you’ve got fantasies that being a Googler is a cross between working for Willy Wonka and working for Hugh Hefner, then you’re likely to be disappointed that it’s more like working for a large tech company. If, however, you’re the sort of person who could be content at a place like DoubleClick, then you can probably get along just fine at Google.

[drinking the kool-aid]

“Don’t drink the Kool-Aid!”

So warned one of my colleagues on Tuesday, when Google workers arrived to install our lavish new snack cart, just hours after our CEO had emailed us to say the acquisition was complete, and then their executives had emailed us to say welcome and warn of headcount reductions.

There was, and is, a great deal of fear and uncertainty at what used to be DoubleClick. But four days in, I’m learning to stop worrying and love the Googlebomb.

For one thing, Google is making it very clear that it has no intention of decimating DoubleClick:

  • The day after the purchase went through, Google not only gave DoubleClick’s New York employees access to its gourmet cafeteria, but also began running shuttle buses to take our San Francisco employees to lunch at their San Francisco offices — not a one-day stunt, but an ongoing interim solution until the San Francisco people can be moved into Google’s offices there. There was a fancy catered cocktail party in our New York office on Wednesday night, and Wednesday also saw the arrival of a huge number of vast, mysterious pallets that turned out to contain videoconferencing flatscreens and cameras for every New York conference room.
  • On Wednesday, the head of engineering for North America spoke to all of us in the engineering department, assuring us that valuable people would be valued and that he had no specific number of jobs he was seeking to cut, and could in fact choose to cut none. We were also told that our management would have significant say in the process. I know that we’ve got a strong advocate for documentation — my old boss — involved in the discussions, and I feel pretty confident that we’ll come out just fine (and that even if we don’t, I am relatively low down on the hit list).
  • On Thursday, Sergey Brin came in to talk. He was wearing Crocs with no socks, which is what you get to do when you’re worth $5.8 billion. I asked a question during the Q&A, about keeping the good aspects of DoubleClick’s culture. Brin is the richest man I have ever spoken to. He came across as basically a lot like the Russian Jews I went to middle school with, if they were worth $5.8 billion.
  • Starting next week, there will be learning sessions given by Google employees. I’m signed up to learn about search, maps and ads.
  • Today they sent out non-disclosure agreements and similar stuff for all of us to sign and send back by inter-office mail. (That’s paper, in case you’re wondering.)

These are simply not the kinds of things you do if you’re planning to cut big numbers. Nor is my position the least bit redundant: I’m the sole tech writer on one of our leading products, which has a big release on the way. And I know I have the support of my managers.

That being the case, I am doing my best to set aside whatever fears I have and embrace this exciting change. During the Q&A, Brin said we should think of ourselves as Google employees, and so I shall. Tonight, on the way home, I picked up The Search: How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture, by John Battelle.

I’m excited about this whole thing. The uncertainty about job security is difficult, but that will be over by April 4, and I’m confident it will turn out all right. The uncertainty about everything else — benefits, career direction, etc. — will take longer to pass, but I will be a part of one of the greatest, most innovative, most successful companies in the world as I figure it all out.

[feeling the fear]

I really want to work for Google. Really. Really I do.

The integration of Google with DoubleClick is proceeding apace. Yesterday they rolled in snack carts, and today we ate lunch in their cafeteria, as we will be able to do from now on. This afternoon we had a lavish cocktail party with fancy hors d’oeuvres and excessively rich pastries. Certainly we are being well fed. And this afternoon, numerous giant pallets appeared: new wide screen monitors, goes the rumor.

I am trying very hard to stay optimistic and assume (as seems likely) that I will continue on as a Googler. According to the New York Times, “while Google has let go small numbers of workers after some earlier acquisitions, it has never had sizable layoffs.” There is no reason to think my position will be redundant.

Still, the uncertainty is difficult. We will know, they say, by April 7.

[google acquires doubleclick]

It’s official.

Update: Okay, so here’s the Google press release, and it’s a little scary. Key graf:

As with most mergers, there may be reductions in headcount. We expect these to take place in the U.S. and possibly in other regions as well. We know that DoubleClick is built on the strength of its people. For this reason we’ll strive to minimize the impact of this process on all of our clients and employees.

Oy. I would like to think that I’m safe, but who knows?

[lunch and luchadores]

Your intrepid Palaverist has been busy!

Eats, Learns and Scratches

Last Wednesday I attended Discover DoubleClick, a day-long orgy of corporate catering and team-building exercises, occasionally interrupted with bursts of useful information: lots of detail on all the training opportunities available to us (my boss later declared, “What’s cool about all that stuff here is that it’s actually real,” which is different from, say, STV, where we had a tuition reimbursement program we weren’t allowed to use), an overview of the business, a history of DoubleClick that included a reference to Mahir (the discovery of viral marketing on the web) and described 2002 simply as “Grown men cry.”

But so the food. We arrived to find breakfast burritos in steam trays, and on our tables were piles of mini-candies. Then, at a mere 11:45, we headed downstairs to the Google cafeteria for the monthly DoubleClick lunch they’ve been letting us have (at which we do not mix with the Google people). The cafeteria lived up to its reputation. It is not the best food I’ve ever had, but it is by far the best free institutional food I’ve ever had. There was seared tuna and marinated steak and fried chicken and tacos, not to mention a raw bar, a vegan bar and chipotle chocolate mousse. Then it was back to more Discovering DoubleClick, with the soft pretzels and the cookie trays arriving by 3.

DoubleClick is interested in enhancing not just our skills, but our skillz: after work, we Discoverers were taken out to Scratch DJ Academy, founded by Jam Master Jay, for a one-hour lesson in scratching, which was seriously fun. I now know the baby scratch and the scribble. I asked the head of my department about using the tuition reimbursement for more DJ lessons, but I accept her judgment that perhaps DJing is not entirely applicable to my job as technical writer.

Semi-Ironic Spandex

I am not, it must be admitted, a wrestling aficionado, Mexican or otherwise. But when my friend Leah invited me to her Lucha Libre-themed birthday, I felt this was an occasion not to be missed. And when, after dinner with a friend earlier in the evening, I found myself trying on an absurdly apropos (and reasonably priced) hat/mask at Search & Destroy on St. Mark’s, it seemed fate was on the side of my inner luchador.

What I didn’t realize was just how serious Leah was about the wrestling. In her tiny apartment near Union Square, she and her friends got into some pretty serious pitched battles (tons of pics here). I didn’t join in, but pledged to dress more appropriately for battle next time. (And yes, that is a unicorn behind me in that picture.)

It may not surprise you to learn that a number of these people are Burners, or that I ran into one of them the following night when I went to see a friend perform at the España-Streb Trapeze Academy in Williamsburg.

The performance — an impressive show of aerobatic skill set to a campy nautical theme — was quite impressive, but it gave me the familiar heebee-jeebees I get around the hippie sports (for lack of a better term). I have a hard time putting my finger on what freaks me out about it, but it seems to pull together a number of threads of childhood alienation: my own physical awkwardness, the sense that hippies should but don’t embrace me, the feeling that I’m in a subculture that devalues my own particular gifts (verbal acuity, encyclopedic knowledge, trivia, intellectual rigor), the fear that I am going to be chastised over some poorly thought out moral stance I dare to disagree with (“Really? You use anti-bacterial soap?”).

I’m glad I stuck around and sat with those fears instead of letting them ruin my night. After the show, my friend invited me out with a number of the performers to a vast German beer hall (I hoisted my stein of die seltzer vasser), and they were really cool people. I had a lovely chat with one woman who is not just an acrobat, but also an opera singer and a former ESL teacher.

Then I took a cab home, which is something I can now actually afford. That too was exciting.

So life is good right now, and I’m doing my best to enjoy what’s good in it.