Ex-Google Engineer Slams Former Employer On Microsoft Blog
Just one day before a Goldman Sachs executive resigned by skewering the firm in an op-ed, a former Google engineer offered his own very public critique of his former employer. Now at Microsoft, James Whittaker wrote on the company blog that Google went from an "innovation factory" to "an advertising company," which was jealously obsessed with competing with Facebook.
Whittaker, who left Microsoft to join Google in 2009, claims that he drank the Kool-Aid at the beginning, and eagerly fed it to the other engineers he was tasked with recruiting. "No one had to ask me twice to promote Google," he writes, "and no one was more surprised than me when I could no longer do so."
It's an uncanny echo of the ex-Goldman Sachs employee's lament: "I realized I could no longer look students in the eye and tell them what a great place this was to work."
Over time, Whittaker claims that Google became fixated on its failure to create a successful social media platform. Google Wave and Google Buzz flopped in succession, and Orkut "never caught on outside Brazil." While a big brand like Nike is happy to put itself behind Facebook on its page Facebook.com/nike, "no company has ever done that for Google," he says, "and Google took it personally."
Whittaker was a development director for Google+, and says the company was single-minded about the product, forcing all innovation to place it "at the center of the universe," and ignoring the fact that it was failing to gain real traction.
"Google was the rich kid who, after having discovered he wasn't invited to the party, built his own party in retaliation," he writes. "The fact that no one came to Google's party became the elephant in the room."
In the process, the company went from an advertising company only "in the sense that a good TV show is an ad company," he writes, to a company that "seems more focused on the commercials themselves."
Whittaker's withering critique has hardly caused a stir with the public, however. At least compared to the storm of response to ex-Goldman Sachs employee Greg Smith. Perhaps because Smith's criticism -- that Goldman has become poisoned by greed -- taps into a much larger conversation about Wall Street ethics, and the "One Percent's" disdain for the little guy.
Google, on the other hand, is still making products millions use and love everyday, has a bunch of positive cache with the public, and wasn't in any way implicated in the financial meltdown that has left so many Americans jobless and broke.
The idea that Google's culture has become more corporate also isn't new, and has largely been seen as inevitable for a company that now boasts over 30,000 employees. And it's no secret that Google+ is something of a ghost town. Last October, another Google engineer wrote a very similar critique, calling the product "a knee-jerk reaction, a study in short-term thinking," which he accidentally sent to his public Google+ account.
The fact that Whittaker defected to Microsoft, and posted these digs on its blog, might seem like a score for Google's longtime rival, which as CNNMoney reported, publicly criticized the company last month. But maybe it's not such a clear-cut victory.
"And you came to Microsoft?" ask some commenters incredulously, calling the company "the graveyard of creativity" and "not exactly the poster child of do-no-evil either."
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Claire Gordon has contributed to Slate's DoubleX, the Huffington Post, and the book Prisons: Current Controversies. While an undergraduate at Yale University and a research fellow at Yale graduate school, she spoke on panels at Yale and Cornell, and reported from Cairo, Tokyo, and Berlin.
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