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The Dead Sea Effect: why would IT engineers leave Google?

May 5, 2008 5 Comments

In my post on the “Dead Sea Effect“, I talk about why the overall quality of personnel in large corporate and government IT shops declines over time (short answer: the great IT engineers leave for greener pastures, the not-so-great ones stay and entrench).

So, why would IT engineers leave one of the most highly regarded, high-quality, and successful IT organizations on the planet, viz., Google? This collection of ‘farewell’ notes from departing Google employees gives some clues (hat tip to Valleywag):

For the last two years, I have had a fantastic time helping to build Google Webmaster Central. I have loved working with the (ever-expanding!) team, writing about search on the blog and for the help center, and designing features for the webmaster community. (…) Now I have an all-new opportunity to work on the unique challenges of the vertical and local search space at Zillow. (…) Making the move was a very difficult decision, but the challenge of creating something new in a space that’s so young and evolving was too great to pass up.” (Vanessa Fox, Google Webmaster Central Product Manager – June 14, 2007)

“Today’s my last day as an employee of Google. I’ve been on leave since December, so it’s not really a big change this day. But now the decision’s made. It feels a bit strange leaving such a great and productive company. But I’m ready to do something new with a smaller group of people.” (Nelson Minar, he created Google’s first APIs – April 7, 2006)

Valleywag summed it up as “to be in charge”, but the postings also make it clear that in many cases it has to do with the size of the organizations. Setting aside my own firm, I’ve worked for organizations ranging in size from 2 employees to over 150,000 employees (PricewaterhouseCoopers in the 1999-2001 timeframe); I still lean towards the smaller size. I suspect in many cases there is a third reason as well: a shot at more valuable stock options, particularly for those who joined Google relatively late.

On the other hand, The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs has a somewhat harsher (though not necessarily incompatible) take on it about a month ago:

You’ve got these weirdly smart and semi-nasty super-spoiled children who really believe they’re superior beings who shouldn’t have to work too hard and who really don’t take criticism well (because they’ve never received any in their sheltered little lives, and it just totally knocks them on their ass) and on top of all that they are almost entirely incapable of focusing on anything for more than a few minutes at a time. You’ve got an entire corporate culture built on ADHD and entitlement. Nice work, frigtard.

Plus you make a big deal of only hiring these super-high-IQ kiddies and the fact is that most of them truly are smart, but then you put them into this horribly dull and easy drone work on AdWords and AdSense and they’re all bored to tears and totally disappointed because they really really really thought they were going to do something meaningful with their lives and now they’re just worker bees — pampered worker bees, sure, but still — and maybe they should have taken that offer from McKinsey but they really thought Google was going to be so cool and blah blah blah.

So, maybe it’s the Dead Sea Effect after all — just on a much higher level. ..bruce..

About the Author:

Webster is Principal and Founder at at Bruce F. Webster & Associates, as well as an Adjunct Professor for the BYU Computer Science Department. He works with organizations to help them with troubled or failed information technology (IT) projects. He has also worked in several dozen legal cases as a consultant and as a testifying expert, both in the United States and Japan. He can be reached at 303.502.4141 or at

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  1. The Wetware Crisis: the Dead Sea effect : Bruce F. Webster | May 5, 2008
  1. arandomJohn says:

    I would guess that most engineers who’ve been at google more than a few years are plenty wealthy, especially given their age, and now value autonomy more than money. My understanding is that the 20% time is a bit of a myth (you’re just working on another project during that time) and those that can’t find a place to innovate in an area interesting to them would tend to leave.

  2. John says:

    The entirety of Google’s business model is marketing. It’s almost unethical to work for such an evil ad machine.

  3. jeremy says:

    I imagine that one of the main motivation that individuals in google leave google separated from unavoidable reasons is the point at which they understand that the current chance in their group at google isn’t adequate to get them elevated to a higher level.

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