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Sunday, April 17, 2005

Joe Beda On Google's 20% Voluntary Project Initiative

Google always epitomises non conventional means of excellence - Google is good at implementing simple ideas, exceptionally well. Joe Beda – ex.Microsoft now working for Google writes about Google culture internally and the 20% voluntary project initiative followed within Google.Excerpts with edits:
The Google model of development is more than just information sharing and the ability to switch projects. The key points to note:
1.Single code base at Google. This has many advantages & so easy to look at and contribute to code in other projects, very high degree of code sharing. One of the reasons that environments like Perl, Python, C#, Java, etc. flourish is that they have large and well through out libraries of useful code. Google has solved this problem by building up a large library of well documented and easy to integrate code, lowering . the bar for new projects but makes it easy to switch projects.
2.Switching teams at Google is a very fluid process. An engineer can be 40% on one project, 40% on something completely different and 20% on his or her own thing. That mix can be adjusted as project requirements change. Joining a new group is more about find a good mutual fit then going through HR and a formal interview loop.
3.The intranet in Google is super transparent. Teams are actively encouraged to share the most intimate details of their projects with the rest of the company. This happens through tech talks, design docs, lunch table conversations, etc. When two teams are doing similar things, people start with the assumption that they must have their reasons and that the situation will be worked out in time
4.There is a big difference between pet projects being permitted and being encouraged. At Google it is actively encouraged for engineers to do a 20% project. This isn't a matter of doing something in your spare time, but more of actively making time for it
5.Energizing intrapersonal environment - When someone comes up with a new idea, the most common response is excitement and a brainstorming session. Politics and who owns what area rarely enter into it
In a follow up post, Joe Beda clarifies about commonly asked queries about this 20% initiative.
On managing this when google is growing up - Google management is committed to keeping the same atmosphere as the company grows
On means of tracking this - There isn't really official tracking of this sort of thing. It really comes down to trust of the employee. At the end of the day (or year) you have to list what you've accomplished for your review. Failures aren't the same as doing nothing - valuable knowledge is gained.
On how to make sure that people are using the time wisely? How does this relate to the goals of the division/group/etc? Well - that is just it - you don't know if the time is being used wisely. You want the engineer to do what he/she thinks is the next big thing, not what management thinks. Most people want to do the next cool think that will fire people up both inside and outside the company and may end up making Google money. Do not forget the fact that Google hires the best talent - google's recruitment criteria and method of selection is indeed legendary.

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Sadagopan's Weblog on Emerging Technologies, Trends,Thoughts, Ideas & Cyberworld
"All views expressed are my personal views are not related in any way to my employer"