Ever wondered what it must be like to work at Google? I'm Feeling Lucky, The Confessions of Google Employee 59 by former marketing staff member Doug Edwards provides a unique insight into that very question, charting his six years at the firm from 1999 to 2005.
The book covers Edwards' journey through the weird and wonderful ways of Google from its early days as an innovative startup trying to cut deals with then giants Yahoo and Inktomi, to becoming the undisputed leader of the search market.
As a writer, Edwards is honest enough to discuss his own insecurities about a lack of technical knowledge and the marketing mistakes he made as he came to terms with Google, to make his voice trustworthy. For example, he thought that changing the home page logo for doodles was madness, only to be proved spectacularly wrong when the doodles became part of the Google brand that internet users came to love.
Lunch with The Grateful Dead's chef
Edwards also offers a look into the minds and personalities of the two driving forces of one of the most successful businesses of the modern age: Larry Page and Sergey Brin.
Their focus and sheer bloody-mindedness, as well as their love of efficiency and mathematics, leaps off the page, and are traits that continue to come through now as the company competes on the global stage.
Edwards is also astute at explaining how Google tried to keep pace with its own growth, and how Page and Brin refused to adhere to tried and tested corporate methods.
With staff working 16-hour days, 4am starts commonplace and engineers living at the Google campus, it's no wonder that Page and Brin offered all food cooked by the former Grateful Dead chef Charlie Ayers free to employees.
Despite the joy at the firm's success after all the hard work, there is something depressing in the way Edwards recounts some of Google's great triumphs that led to nothing more than a better way to display ads.
Google overtook all and sundry because it delivered better search results and displayed better ads. Page and Brin come across as guys who wanted to change the world with Google, but needed the best ads to allow them to do so.
Battles with Marisa
It's not Page and Brin who are the villains for their ability to sell better ads in I'm Feeling Lucky, though. That role is played with increasing frequency by current vice president of location and local services, Marisa Mayer.
Mayer and Edwards regularly clashed over design, wording, layouts, launches and other issues over which Edwards claims, quite reasonably, that he should have had dominion.
Edwards often seems to suggest that Mayer went above his head to get her way with or without complete backing but, as with all office politics, there are two sides to a battle and Mayer no doubt has other opinions.
Given the mindset of Google's founders - 'Why not just hire the best people?' - it is probably not surprising that the firm quickly became a battleground of super smart, ambitious go-getters. And given Mayer's prominence at the company now, you can imagine she's not a woman who backs down.
It's also a fascinating and telling example of how the ethos of a fresh, dynamic, do-things-different startup can quickly become a corporate institution with various fiefdoms and personalities battling for control.
The growing corporate nature clearly took its toll on Edwards, and the book comes to a close shortly after Google has gone public and Edwards leaves the firm at which he spent so many years of his mid-40s helping to become a global powerhouse.
Edwards is happy enough, though. Why wouldn't he be? Despite never revealing the exact details, he has baited the reader many times with mentions of the shares he received on joining the firm - "It looked like they'd put the comma in the wrong place" - that he subsequently cashed in when the firm went public.
"I didn't how how it felt to earn more money in one day than I had in 30 years of hard work. I didn't know then, but I do now," reads the book's back cover blurb, making the idea of rushing to Silicon Valley to join a startup highly appealing.
For anyone who's had more than a passing interest in Google, or wondered what it must be like to work for a company that begins with a bunch of guys around a single desk and becomes a world changing firm, I'm Feeling Lucky is definitely worth a read.
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