[ann taylor is not for the boys]

Last night I dreamed that I went to work in a new kilt suit — a tweed skirt and matching jacket — and then began to worry that perhaps it was actually just a skirt suit, for a woman. I had to walk all the way across the office, only to discover that my usual morning meeting wasn’t happening. On the way back, two medieval trumpeters, banners draped from their long horns, were performing a fanfare to welcome a lunch provided as a marketing gimmick by Boston Market, which seemed odd considering we can all go to the Google cafeteria.

Then I woke up and found an email in my inbox about a pregnant man (in Australia, though, so it kind of makes sense, because hanging upside-down all day does weird things to those people).

Oh, and I promise not every post from now on will contain the word “Google.” Really. Eventually I’ll be able to think of something else.

[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.

[a clicker’s life]

Yesterday I got lost in Google.

From DoubleClick’s offices on the tenth floor of 111 Eighth Avenue, there’s a back way that lets you out on Ninth Avenue, by Chelsea Market. To get there, you go down a stairway to the eighth floor, where Google has offices and its vaunted Hemispheres Cafe (a sign on the door says “Watch for Tailgaters”), and along a series of hallways to a bank of elevators.

The way down was fine, but on the way back up, I couldn’t remember which stairwell led back to DoubleClick. I tried one and then another, climbing until I was out of breath. Back on the eighth floor, I fell in behind three casually dressed people who were talking about “python code,” hoping they were Clickers, but when they turned into the stairwell, they headed down.

Thoroughly disoriented by now, I decided just to take the elevators to the lobby and walk around the block, and I was about to press the button when around a corner came Chealsea, who used to be a technical writer when I first worked at DoubleClick, from 1998 to 2001, and is now a product manager. She duly guided me back to our offices — “It’s stairwell D for DoubleClick is how I remember it,” she said — and suddenly we were back.

Coming back to DoubleClick after six years away has been something like yesterday’s experience over and over: alternating waves of disorientation, bewilderment and welcome familiarity, garnished with tantalizing glimpses of Google.

Much has changed at DoubleClick since I jumped ship in the early waves of the dot-com collapse, back in September of 2001 (before 9/11). DoubleClick became a highly profitable company in those lean years, but for the technical side of the business, it was a painful period of stagnation. In 2005, DoubleClick was purchased by private equity firm Hellman & Friedman, and its founders, Kevin Ryan and Kevin O’Connor, quietly left the company. The infusion of cash and the new leadership injected new life into the organization, and it was around this time that my former boss, Karen Delfau, began to implement Scrum, an innovative methodology for developing software.

Traditionally, software has been developed according to the waterfall method, in which each phase is completed in its entirety before cascading down to the next: the product managers talk to the clients to find out what’s needed, then they pass on their detailed specifications to the engineers, who work in isolation until they finish and hand everything over to QA for testing. Once the testing is through, the product moves down the line again to customer support, and then out to the clients, and by this time it usually looks nothing like what the clients originally thought they wanted, and anyway it’s now three years later and the clients want something else entirely.

Scrum takes a completely different approach: cross-functional teams of product managers, programmers, testers, interface designers and technical writers work together for “sprints,” which are 30-day efforts to build something. You obviously can’t build a whole new product in 30 days, but you can usually add a button, clean up an interface, smarten up some back-end logic, speed up a process — in other words, produce actual, working business value.

Scrum is a big part of why I decided to come back to DoubleClick. For someone who remembers the old days, when it felt like the tech writers were the only people who ever talked to anyone outside our own group, the idea of getting all these different experts into a room together all at once — daily — is actually pretty thrilling. I’ve started to learn how this new process works, and as good as it is in theory, it’s even more impressive in action. Astoundingly, working software really does get produced every month. Even more astoundingly, the whole process is driven by specific customer demands, and even the engineers seem to have internalized the idea that if the customer doesn’t want it, there’s no point in building it.

Another change — still potential rather than actual — is the purchase of DoubleClick by Google. The Federal Trade Commission has given the merger its blessing, so now the final hurdle is European approval, which looks likely. If the deal goes through, we’ll almost certainly get access to Google’s food (yes, the software industry is at its heart a hungry teenager playing video games at 4 am), and most likely to their other benefits as well, which are legion and legendary, and include things like on-site massages and a philosophy that says workers should devote 20 percent of their time to personal projects.

These differences from the DoubleClick of yore are balanced by the many things that have stayed the same. My cubicle is right outside Karen’s office, bringing back memories of my awkward early days with the company, when I tended to fool around too much, and Karen moved me close so she could keep an eye on me. This is decidedly not why I’m sitting there now, and it’s actually nice to be able to talk to her regularly. When I moved in, Karen gave me back my old name-plate, which she’d kept all these years. And when I logged into the employee intranet, I found my performance review from 2000.

In fact, a lot of people I used to know are now vice presidents like Karen, or running various departments. At first I worried that this would be awkward — that they would see me as beneath them now — but in fact it has turned out to be a great asset, and I find that I have sources of information and assistance available to me that are hard to come by for some of the other writers.

The culture, too, remains much as it was. I wore a suit my first day, and was told by several people not to do anything like that again. Karen told me her New Year’s resolution was to wear jeans to work more often, and my manager, David, claims that one of the best things about his job is not having to shave every day. On the weekend before the Superbowl, I asked Ken, my other manager (he’s transitioning out), if I could come in a bit late on Monday. “You remember what it’s like here on Mondays,” he said. “Nobody’s here.” People come in when they come in, leave when they leave, and often work from home. There’s still a game room, now outfitted with a Wii, an Xbox 360 and a PS3 (a full Rock Band kit is available and frequently in use), along with the more analog pleasures of ping pong, foozball and billiards. There is a meditation group that meets daily for 15 minutes at noon in a conference room. There is pizza on “Two-Slice Tuesdays” and bagels on Friday mornings, and other food regularly appears and then quickly disappears. This afternoon, admittedly a Friday, my conversation with Ken about the ad-serving methodolgy white paper was interrupted by a remote-controlled helicopter, which came crashing down in the next cubicle over.

DoubleClick is still ethnically diverse, with a particularly high number of Indians and Chinese. We have our Indian parterns in Pune on the phone each morning at our daily scrum meeting, and I was tickled to hear one of our own engineers here in New York refer to “257,000” as “two lakh fifty-seven,” in a meeting (no one seemed to notice). One group that is notably scarce is Koreans, although a Korean-American user interface designer spotted my name and title written in Korean on the whiteboard in my cubicle and has begun to ask me the occasional question in Korean.

Along with the culture, there are continuities in the documentation that are both pleasing and a bit daunting. To get myself reacquainted with DoubleClick’s software, I went to the customer support website and began reading through the white papers — only to discover that they’re still largely as I wrote them six or seven years ago. The style guide and procedure manual is still the one I wrote, and still in use. I’ll admit to feeling flattered that my writing was good enough for DoubleClick to coast on for all this time, but it also suggests a certain laxity in the update cycle.

These continuities make my return to DoubleClick feel like a homecoming of sorts — one of my former colleagues even scheduled in Outlook a “Fatted Calf Lunch: Return of the Prodigal.” Indeed, I am coming to realize just how foreign the environment was at the South Korean Permanent Mission to the UN. The daily effort of cultural translation had become so ingrained that I had lost sight of the energy it took, and of the ways in which it was isolating. It’s nice to be back among people who are my peers, not only professionally but socially. Example: I had some dealings with a guy in internal support who was wearing a sparkly storm trooper shirt and has “THERE IS NO TRY” scrawled on his whiteboard. When I brought him my inherited laptop to be wiped clean, I asked him to take this R2 unit down to Anchorhead and have its memory flushed, and he knew what I was talking about!

I have really, really needed this. I have needed an environment where there is flux, possibility and challenge, where there are lots of interesting new people to meet, where there’s room to be ambitious and to grow. I’m still finding my feet, but I’m excited and interested and happy. It’s good. I’ll keep you posted.