How Google Works

Posted on July 9, 2006  Comments (4)

How Google Works by David F. Carr

An interesting look at the technology system behind Google.

“But this is the start of the story,” he adds, part of an approach that says “don’t necessarily do it the way everyone else did. Just find some way of doing it cheap and effectively—so we can learn.”

Google was driven from the beginning by engineers that sought to do what was best. Since those engineers were the founders of the company and still run the company Google has been able to keep the focus not on what is accepted as conventional wisdom but what actually works best. Google understands when you experiment things might not work out. Google’s solution is to experiement quickly and fail early (turn the pdsa cycle quickly). That is something every organization can apply.

Still, Gartner analyst Ray Valdes believes Google retains an advantage in price-performance, as well as in overall computing power. “I buy that. Even though I’m usually pretty cynical and skeptical, as far as I know, nobody has gone to that extent and pushed the envelope in the way they have,” he says. “Google is still doing stuff that others are not doing.”

The advantage will erode over time, and Google will eventually run up against the limits of how much homegrown technology it can manage, Valdes predicts: “The maintenance of their own system software will become more of a drag to them.”

But Google doesn’t buy this traditional argument for why enterprises should stick to application-level code and leave more fundamental technologies like file systems, operating systems and databases to specialized vendors. Google’s leaders clearly believe they are running a systems engineering company to compete with the best of them.

Google is a fascinating company to read about. But they are also significantly different. You can’t copy the methods they use. Very few companies are going to benefit by writing their own file systems and operating systems. However, in those instances where your organization should pursue customized solutions can you.

The scope of those customized solutions at Google are inspiring, in part because of their scope. What most can learn from Google is that those who claim certain things are not possible or practical are not always right. Of course, there are many examples of companies that fail trying to be different so those that urge caution are not always wrong either.

A more traditional project tracking application would use a form to make users plug the data into different fields and checkboxes, giving the computer more structured data to process. But instead of making things easier for the computer, Google’s approach is to make things easier for the user and make the computer work harder. Employees submit their reports as an unstructured e-mail, and the project tracking software works to “understand” the content of those e-mail notes in the same way that Google’s search engine extracts context and meaning from Web pages.

How much of what you spend time on could benefit from thinking in this way: “instead of making things easier for the computer, Google’s approach is to make things easier for the user”? In my experience a great deal. This is something most organizations would claim they would aim to do. The difference is in what they actually do, not what they aim to do.

More posts on Google and management improvement ideas

4 Responses to “How Google Works”

  1. Kwaliteg
    July 22nd, 2006 @ 6:52 am

    The usability and speed are what gives google.com the edge.

  2. Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog » Blog Archive » Interview of Steve Wozniak
    August 8th, 2006 @ 11:23 pm

    […] Sounds like Google today, see: How Google Works focused on engineering and Enginners at Google Make Decisions. I was partly hardware and partly software, but, I’ll tell you, I wrote an awful lot of software by hand (I still have the copies that are handwritten) and all of that went into the Apple II. Every byte that went into the Apple II, it had so many different mathematical routines, graphics routines, computer languages, emulators of other machines, ways to slip your code in and out of an emulation mode. It had all these kinds of things and not one bug ever found. Not one bug in the hardware, not one bug in the software. And you just can’t find a product like that nowadays. But, you see, I had it so intense in my head, and the reason for that was largely because it was part of me. Everything in there had to be so important to me. This computer was me. And everything had to be as perfect as could be made. And I had a lot going against me because I didn’t have a computer to compile my code, my software. […]

  3. CuriousCat: Are Google Management Practices Worth Studying?
    August 16th, 2007 @ 9:56 pm

    I believe Google offers a great deal for managers to study – see our posts on Google management practices. But that is not the same as reinventing corporate management. Most companies have no way of just replacing their management system with a “Google management system”…

  4. Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog » Google’s Self Driving Car
    October 12th, 2010 @ 7:16 am

    […] thinks big. Google thinks like engineers. Google is willing to spend money taking on problems that other companies don’t. They have […]

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