How Not to Understand Google

At Google, Talking to Coworkers Can Get You Fired” has been making the rounds. But really, a better title would have been “At Google, Endangering Trade Secrets Can Get You Fired, Just Like at Other Companies.” A contractor who was “interested in issues of class, race, and labor” decided to interview and videotape some of the book scanning techs. (They share in few of the famous perks Google lavishes on its programmers.)

The company is profoundly tight-lipped about the book-scannng process, and its response was unsurprising: he was fired. This isn’t a particularly Googley thing to do, either. Just ask the guy fired by Microsoft over his pictures of Macs arriving at a Microsoft loading dock. Caste-colored badges are hardly unique to Google, either. I carry a green ID card; my students’ are blue.

The irony here is that Google’s internal class politics are quite interesting; they represent a particularly concentrated form of the Type L worldview overlaid with some corporate collectivism and a pervasive do-gooder ideology. I explored some of these themes in my 1997 piece about Microsoft. For the Google-specific twists, consider the daycare debacle, the DotOrg drama, and the company’s attempt to make the hiring process computational while still scrutinizing those Ivy League transcripts for the telltale C in macroeconomics. There’s a lot going on here in need of unpacking, but trying to play Michael Moore on your lunch break isn’t a particularly helpful way of getting at it.

The “secret” Google toolshed is another example of Google class-ism: