Tuesday, October 23, 2007

State of Politics (and Bay Area)

Today, for the first time ever, I encountered politics in Google. Now, I was not naive. I was sure there is a ton of it floating around but I still believed that it is a lot less than what we have in the outside world. That observation holds true. My observations about Google and a corporate job anywhere is that there are primarily two kinds of politicians on campus:

1. A few very dominating people who will have opinion but will not do their homework before honoring us with it
2. A set number of people who are insecure about their job and so try to protect it by exercising their (so-called) power, or worse keeping critical information to themselves. They usually make for bad bosses and even though I am lucky to (really) have an awesome mentor/boss right now, I have seen enough employees go bad because the boss is insecure

The best way to deal with this (other than to start a company of your own, which seems like the best way to deal with anything these days) is that if you encounter the first kind, then just do way more homework than they do, and keep asking very intelligent questions. At some point or the other, you will notice the sound of a big ego slinking away.

In the latter case (usually the most egregious kind of politician), have a heart to heart. Talk to the person, make them feel at ease. Actually try to decrease their insecurities. And if they are scared (or scary) enough that a simple chit-chat does not help, then just remove all the potential grouses they could have. Establish better communication channels, be on the right side always, and then keep working single mindedly towards the goal.

As a wise man once said, "There will always be people that don't see eye-to-eye or are distracting. Just work hard, be
aggressive (in a good way) and get the product launched. Stay focused on the goal and others will get behind you."

The moral:
- Be good (and on the right side)
- Be open
- Be focused

All else will follow.

Epilogue: Life in Bay Area is going well. Work is going well, weather is awesome, the itch to do something has restarted. All in all, perfect recipe for Bay Area living. The company is exploding to put it mildly, and one has to be in the center of the hurricane to see what the hell is going on here. Though at a macro level, some storm clouds appear in the horizon for Silicon Valley. Oh well, I have seen those before.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Taking responsibility

In a nutshell, that is what a PM's job is all about. Taking responsibility for the product, its launch, its features, its ecosystem; making decisions. Making decisions is a large part of my day. Making decision with half information is almost all of it.

Someone asked me how does Google integrate its various functions like marketing, patenting, partnerships, legal, Ops etc so that they work for the product in synergy. The answer is: Through the PM.

The PM owns the product, all the functions work for the product. There is no direct reporting here, however there is one guy who is the common thread between all these functions and it is the PM. Invariably, there are decisions that need to be made at a macro level that define the work and strategy of these sub-divisions. Those decisions are the domain of the PM. Once the structure is set, then these divisions have a free reign to set their agenda. This is how Google manages a flat hierarchy yet ensures efficiency.

It makes one person's job incredibly tough. Mine. I spend all my day surrounded by folks who know more than me, but who look towards me for structure. So I have to learn how to think very fast, ask the right questions, and make quick decisions. Almost always the plan I put together needs significant tweaking. However, more often that not, a plan is better than none. Hence my value-add to the product.

A lot of people worry that the PM has all the responsibility without any authority. On the contrary, my experience has been that most people are so glad to have you on their side, providing structure to the chaotic product that they are trying to put together, that it has never been difficult to influence people to get stuff done.

The bottom line is - People do not like ambiguity. Anything (anyone) who helps decrease ambiguity is welcome and a strong asset. In Google, a PM provides direction, vision, and creates a framework on which multiple teams put together a product. It is the job of a CEO-in-training.

Its midnight, I am still working but I love every moment of what I am doing. Its been three months for me out here at Google, and thankfully, I can say now that regardless of whether this was a better decision than going to VC (that time will tell), it definitely was not a worse decision. I love my work, and that is more than what most can ask for.