January 27, 2012

Quotes from “I’m Feeling Lucky”

Some quotes from Douglas Adams’ I’m Feeling Lucky:
  • But you couldn’t work at Google without learning something new every day, even if you weren’t trying to.
  • Efficiency, I would learn very quickly, is valued highly among those who live to make things work better.
  • Among certain sets in Silicon Valley, your email address indicates more about you than the car you drive or the clothes you wear.
  • Larry and Sergey didn’t like renting intelligence when they could buy it.  There are only so many really smart people in the world.  Why not collect them all?
  • If search engines were faster and better, they could be integrated into your thought process.
  • “If we can’t win on quality,” [Larry] said quietly, “we shouldn’t win at all.”
  • Legend has it that Google grew entirely by word of mouth.  That’s not quite true.  We didn’t mind running online ads; we just didn’t want to pay for them.
  • Insecurity was a game all Googlers could play, especially about intellectual inferiority.  Everyone but a handful felt they were bringing down the curve.
  • Things could always be more efficient and cost less, in either time or money.
  • Google did that to you—made you challenge all your assumptions and experience-based beliefs until you began to wonder if up was really up, or if it might not actually be a different kind of down.
  • I needed to stop saying “Here’s my concern,” and start saying “Here’s what you need to do to make that happen.”
  • “You have to say both emotionally and intellectually, ‘I can only work so many hours.  The best I can do is make good use of these hours and prioritize the right way so I spend my time on the things that are most important.’  Then if I see something below the line that is broken and I can fix it, it’s important not to try to fix it.  Because you’re going to hurt yourself.  Either personally—because you add another hour and that’s not sustainable—or you’re going to hurt something that’s above the line that’s not getting the hours that it should.”
  • “Any technology can do a good job with a hundred thousand queries a day.  It’s a lot harder to do it with a hundred million.”
  • Google’s founders believed down to their DNA that simplicity was a benefit.
  • Neither Larry nor Sergey had been to business school or run a large corporation, but Larry had studied more than two hundred business books to prepare for his role running Google as a competitive entity.  He trusted his own synthesis of what he had read as much as anything he might have picked up in a classroom.
  • “It’s not an engineering personality to keep quiet when you feel things are going wrong... and being intimidated by people is not very productive.”
  • “Google engineers were so strong-willed,” [said] Matt Cutts, “that sometimes if we thought that Larry and Sergey were wrong, we just ignored them.”
  • “We can keep on discussing this for a long time and try to get agreement or we can just go ahead and do at least the part we know.”
  • “Once you start to see spam, the curse is, you’ll see it everywhere.”
  • “One thing I learned at Google,” [Matt Cutts] said to me, “is that you make your own cred.  If you propose your own initiative, you’re much more likely to do it than if you sit around and wait for someone to say, ‘What do you want to do with your life?’”
  • Any time you have that rate of growth, you basically have to make software improvements continuously because you can’t get the hardware deployed fast enough.
  • That’s the best definition of success: if a new system comes out and everyone says, ‘Wow, I can’t believe we put up with the old thing because it was so primitive and limited compared to this.’
  • ‘An order of magnitude is qualitative, not quantitative.’  When you go up by an order of magnitude, the problem is different enough that it demands different solutions.  It’s discontinuous.
  • Engineering lives and dies by its tradeoffs.
  • I was admitting I couldn’t get something done.  At Google, that was not a career-enhancing move.
  • “Don’t let anything hold you up for eventual delivery,” Cindy wrote in my six-month review.  “Figure out the fastest way to get it done.  And don’t let your signature high standards slip!”
  • Larry was so suffused with conviction that he simply brushed aside opposition and ran toward risk without fear or hesitation.
  • It’s hard to accept that everything you know is wrong, or at least needs to be proved right all over again.  [This is Douglas’ reaction when all of his experience seemed useless and/or rejected at Google.]
  • Search is cheap only when done right.
  • “What matters is whether we’re doing the right thing, and if people don’t understand that now, they will eventually come to understand it.”
  • Marissa’s desire to “fix things” as soon as they came to her attention was a common impulse among engineers.
  • We were the yin and the yang: marketing and engineering, glibness and geekspeak, a gracefully arcing comma in a classic Garamond font complementing a rigidly vertical apostrophe in fixed-pitch ASCII.
  • Product management gave [Marissa Mayer] a far wider playing field than she ever would have had as an individual contributor in engineering.
  • I was concerned about becoming “the guy who was always concerned,”
  • Larry and Sergey’s most sacrosanct commandment: Get it done on time.
  • Obvious solutions are not the only ones and “safe” choices aren’t always good choices.
  • Two smart guys working on complex technical problems, it turns out, can accomplish a hell of a lot.
  • Larry never wanted to give people more information than he thought it was useful for them to have.
  • We’re Google!  Let’s be outrageous and daring and have some fun.
  • It was our goal to make ads so useful that people would actually go out of their way to click them, even knowing that they were ads and not search results.
  • “Any chart that goes up and to the right is good,” [Eric Schmidt] assured us.
  • “You can’t get up and be an asshole about being smart,” Paul [Buchheit] explained, “because Jeff’s smarter than you and he’s not an asshole.”
  • But at Google the status quo was nothing more than an inconvenience to be improved upon as time allowed.
  • Scaling by adding staff instead of algorithms and hardware would be a mistake.
  • “Don’t be evil” is not the same as “Don’t consider, test, and evaluate evil.”
  • You need to understand how Google works.  We don’t have senior VPs.  We have Larry and Sergey and everybody else.  [This was during Doug’s time, of course.  Now Google has VPs.]
  • “We agreed not to do this,” [Marissa Mayer] insisted.  “And you went off and did it anyway.”
    “I don’t remember ever agreeing to that,” Paul [Buchheit] replied.  “Maybe you said not to, but I never agreed to anything.  I’m not really that agreeable a person that I would ever agree not to do something.”  [The conversation is about targeting ads based on email contents in Gmail.]
  • Experiencing something is much more powerful than just talking about it.
  • “Ultimately,” Paul [Buchheit] said, “that’s a really big advantage or liability for a project.  What Larry thinks of the people involved.”

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