Google’s Culture Revealed, a book review of I’m Feeling Lucky: The Confessions of Google Employee Number 59

September 18th, 2011 by lewis

The book
I’m Feeling Lucky: The Confessions of Google Employee Number 59 by Douglas Edwards; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

The backstory
Edwards is Google’s first director of consumer marketing and brand management. In this memoir, he shares a first-person inside view of the iconic high-tech company, Google.  Edwards chronicles his journey and personal growth during Google’s early years.  Throughout the book, he peppers in colorful anecdotes and details.  He also pauses to reflect on relevant milestones from the 1999-2005 time frame, featuring cameos from the most influential and critical Google employees.

Why it’s relevant to Google job seekers
It’s quite possibly the most insightful and authentic perspective on what it’s like to work at Google.  Edwards reveals, dissects, and evaluates all aspects of Google’s corporate culture — including Google’s values and decision making.

Other Google books observe the corporate culture from an arm’s length, using third-party reports.  Edwards shares his own personal experiences and supplements his analysis from interviews with key ex-coworkers.

Key takeaways
I thought Edwards accurately describing Google’s marketing principles, which vexed both internal and external observers.

Marketing principles

  • PR and word of mouth work better than ads.
  • Paid ads work against our brand. Focus on the “joy of discovery.”
  • We’ll grow faster getting current users to search more than by mass marketing.
  • All our promotions must include a way to measure success.
  • Product interaction is, and must remain, the primary branding experience.
  • User retention efforts should center on improving UI and user support.

Edwards also did an excellent job describing Page’s work style.

Larry’s Rules of Order

  • Don’t delegate: Do everything you can yourself to make things go faster.
  • Don’t get in the way if you’re not adding value. Let the people actually doing the work talk to each other while you go do something else. Don’t be a bureaucrat.
  • Ideas are more important than age. Just because someone is junior doesn’t mean they don’t desere respect and cooperation.
  • The worst thing you can do is stop something from doing something by saying, “No. Period.” If you say no, you have to help them find a better way to get it done.

Why this is better than other Google books
Details.   When other Google books merely scratch the surface, Edwards book penetrate into the details.  Google’s food menus are shared in detail, and Edwards’ reveals that Google’s #1 marketing expense was Google t-shirts for employees.  We find that getting a “C” on your OKRs (Google’s goal setting system) is ok.  And best of all, we get a first-person narrative on key decisions and discussions with Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Urs Hölzle, Jeff Dean, Salar Kamangar — among others.


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