Why James Whittaker Left Google

Why James Whittaker Left Google

In a recent blog post by former Google engineer James Whittaker, we’re given some food for thought. Whittaker’s sentiments of the company can be boiled down to a single passage:

The Google I was passionate about was a technology company that empowered its employees to innovate. The Google I left was an advertising company with a single corporate-mandated focus.

Whittaker, who is now a partner development manager at Microsoft, laments the ways in which Google changed once Larry Page became the company’s CEO. He writes,

Under Eric Schmidt ads were always in the background. Google was run like an innovation factory, empowering employees to be entrepreneurial through founder’s awards, peer bonuses and 20% time.

Google’s 20% rule famously allowed employees to devote 1/5 of their time to projects outside of their usual duties. This freedom created Chrome and Gmail, among other products. However, Whittaker’s post creates a distinct separation between Schmidt’s management and Page’s corporate mandates, in which creativity was set aside in favor of the development of the company’s lagging social network, Google+.

Google was the rich kid who, after having discovered he wasn’t invited to the party, built his own party in retaliation. The fact that no one came to Google’s party became the elephant in the room.

Whittaker’s post is a worthwhile read because it reveals something very true about Google’s evolution. While advertising has always been a part of the company’s structure, Google+ marked one of the first times when traditional banner ads were ever used by Google to attract attention to its social network. Furthermore, Google’s recent redesigns in search, privacy policies, and email are as controversial as they are useful, arming advertisers with more information than ever before.

Income is all well and good, and if Google is making a pretty penny from its consistently commendable forms of innovation, then more power to them. But Whittaker’s sentiments from the inner-workings of the company suggest an unfortunate side effect of these developments: creativity is being pushed away. And what’s progress without positive innovation?

Also, as an ironic little endnote, Whittaker’s musings about Google were posted to Microsoft’s blog. Oh, burn!

Scott Kaufmann
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Scott is Partner at Lucid Agency and a lover of all things technology, marketing, investing and entrepreneurship. Scott volunteers on the board of the Denver-based Nonprofit Celebrate EDU and as a mentor for SeedSpot (a Phoenix-based social startup incubator).

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