Après mon article de la semaine dernière, continuons avec un autre bouquin sur Google, cette fois avec un oeil plus journaliste, celui de Steven Levy. Il a réalisé des interviews avec de nombreux Googlers afin de réaliser “In the Plex”. Il a aussi eu accès à de nombreux projets et détails qui étaient restés cachés jusque là. C’est donc le complément parfait de “I’m Feeling Lucky“.
Cependant, il rentre dans les détails dans plusieurs projets intéressants, et permet ainsi de découvrir d’un oeil nouveau le lancement de Google en Chine par exemple, ou bien le lancement de Google News.
Un livre à lire avant “I’m feeling lucky” donc ! Voici quelques morceaux que j’ai relevés dans ce livre. Bonne lecture !
Every other week Page would come to Garcia-Molina’s office asking for disks and equipment. “That’s fine,” Garcia-Molina would say. “This is a great project, but you need to give me a budget.” He asked Page to pick a number, to say how much of the web he needed to crawl, and to estimate how many disks that would take. “I want to crawl the whole web,” Page said.
Since Page wasn’t a world-class programmer, he asked a friend to help out. Scott Hassan was a full-time research assistant at Stanford, working for the Digital Library Project program while doing part-time grad work. Hassan was also good friends with Brin, whom he’d met at an Ultimate Frisbee game during his first week at Stanford. Page’s program “had so many bugs in it, it wasn’t funny,” says Hassan. Part of the problem was that Page was using the relatively new computer language Java for his ambitious project, and Java kept crashing. “I went and tried to fix some of the bugs in Java itself, and after doing this ten times, I decided it was a waste of time,” says Hassan. “I decided to take his stuff and just rewrite it into the language I knew much better that didn’t have any bugs.”
Part of the problem was that Page and Brin had written the system in what Hölzle calls “university code,” a nice way of saying amateurish. “The web server couldn’t handle more than ten requests or so a second because it was written in Python, which is a great idea for a research system, but it’s not a high-performance solution,” he says. He immediately set about rewriting the code.
Looking at things from a different perspective could lead to unexpected solutions.
“Math professors love us because Google has made eigenvectors relevant to every matrix algebra student in America,” says Marissa Mayer.
This was the hard-won view from inside the Google search engine: a rock is a rock. It’s also a stone, and it could be a boulder. Spell it rokc, and it’s still a rock. But put “little” in front of “rock,” and it’s the capital of Arkansas. Which, is not an “ark.” Unless “Noah” is around.
“I’d like to get it to a state that people think of it as ‘If you’ve Googled it, you’ve researched it, and otherwise you haven’t, and that’s it,’” says Sergey Brin.
For example, Google had just introduced a new heuristic where it determined from your searches whether you might be contemplating suicide, in which case it would provide you with information on sources of aid.
Back in 2004, I asked Page and Brin what they saw as the future of Google search. “It will be included in people’s brains,” said Page. “When you think about something and don’t really know much about it, you will automatically get information.” “That’s true,” said Brin. “Ultimately I view Google as a way to augment your brain with the knowledge of the world.
“You can’t understand Google,” she said, “unless you know that both Larry and Sergey were Montessori kids.” “Montessori” refers to schools based on the educational philosophy of Maria Montessori, an Italian physician born in 1870 who believed that children should be allowed the freedom to pursue what interested them.
Ask their own questions, do their own things. To disrespect authority. Do something because it makes sense, not because some authority figure told you.
They’re always asking ‘Why should it be like that?’
“Their attitude is just like, ‘We’re Montessori kids,’” said Mayer. “We’ve been trained and programmed to question authority.”
Maria Montessori’s claim “Discipline must come through liberty…. We do not consider an individual disciplined only when he has been rendered as artificially silent as a mute and as immovable as a paralytic. He is an individual annihilated, not disciplined. We call an individual disciplined when he is master of himself.”
When Eric Schmidt arrived in 2001, the new CEO gave a thumbs-up to the mongrel style. “Don’t change a thing,” he told Salah. “Make sure it looks like a dorm room.”
“There is an absolutely crystal-clear hierarchy at Google,” says Denise Griffin, who was hired at Google for a nontechnical job in 2000. “It’s engineers and everyone else. And if you want to be here, you have to, at some level, appreciate it.”
“We want to pack those buildings, not just because it minimizes our footprint but because of the interactions you get, just accidental stuff you overhear,” says Salah. “Walking around, you feel good about being here. And that’s what’s Googley.”
Page once said that anyone hired at Google should be capable of engaging him in a fascinating discussion should he be stuck at an airport with the employee on a business trip.
A complicated system called Objectives and Key Results, usually referred to by the acronym OKR. It was something Andy Grove had devised at Intel (he’d called it Management by Objective), but Doerr believed it was even more useful for start-ups. “It’s really important in rapidly growing companies because it allows you to be superclear about what priorities are,” he says. His efforts to start OKRs at previous start-ups had met with mixed results, so he had no idea what reaction Larry and Sergey would have. But they were enthusiastic enough to have Doerr come and present it to the company. So one day in 1999, Doerr took Googlers into a conference room and did a PowerPoint presentation on how OKRs worked. The idea was not just to identify what one wants to do but to break down the task into measurable bites (“key results”). In his book High Output Management, Grove imagined the OKR system applied to Christopher Columbus. The explorer fell short of his objective of finding a trade route to India, but he did carry out some subsidiary OKRs: he gathered a crew; he bought supplies; he avoided pirates; and by discovering the New World, he brought riches to Spain. Doerr had Google at metrics. “Google did more than adopt it,” says Doerr. “They embraced it.” OKRs became an essential component of Google culture. Every employee had to set, and then get approval for, quarterly OKRs and annual OKRs. There were OKRs at the team level, the department level, and even the company level. (Those last were used sparingly, for important initiatives or to address gaping failures.) Four times a year, everything stopped at Google for divisionwide meetings to assess OKR progress.
It was essential that OKRs be measurable. An employee didn’t say, “I will make Gmail a success” but, “I will launch Gmail in September and have a million users by November.” “It’s not a key result unless it has a number,” says Marissa Mayer. The OKR embodied ambition. “It sanctions the ability to take risks,” says Doerr. Even worse than failing to make an OKR was exceeding the standard by a large measure; it implied that an employee had sandbagged it, played it safe, thought small. Google had no place for an audacity-challenged person whose grasp exceeded his reach. The sweet spot was making about .7 or .8 of your OKR.
“To be … helpful,” she wrote, “it is necessary rigorously to avoid the arrest of spontaneous movements and the imposition of arbitrary tasks.”