The Joy of Building

Twitter Summary: The joy of building and making something successful in any size of organization.

I recently signed on to work for Google as an Engineering Director in its Seattle offices. This move was a little surprising to everyone including myself.  I had been working on consulting with various startups around Seattle, and had an eye towards finding a new thing to build. When Google approached me this time, I was compelled by the opportunity to work with their teams improving its core technologies. There was also the opportunity to explore what else you could do if you had an “infinite” amount of computing resources. What I was happiest to hear in talking with members of the leadership team, is that they all wanted to improve how agile the company was while improving their current system and creating new products.

Generally, I write about lessons I have learned at previous companies for use in a future startup. The lessons for that startup can be summarized as, “Get focused. Find a great team, customers, vendors and investors. Build something great and have your customers buy it.” Funny enough the same lessons are applicable at larger companies.  In a startup, you have resource constraints in figuring out how much people, money and time it will take to build your product. In a large organization, you have the exact same constraints.  The key difference is that in a large organization the scale of the constraints gives you more flexibility in what you can deliver. Organizations like Google have made it their business to build tools like BigTable and MapReduce to provide their employees better tools to improve search. Amazon has been investing in web services and working to figure out how to have it work better for both external and internal groups. The constraints in these types of larger organizations are more often building the right team and setting expectations of when projects can be delivered.

Innovating within a large company has the advantage of being able to leverage the whole organization’s people, time and money if you have a runaway success.  Apple recently reported that 40% of their revenue comes from the iPhone where only a few years ago it was only making desktops and laptops. Amazon’s Kindle was it’s top seller in electronics this past year and has been successful enough that it is drawing engineers from other groups within the company who want to work on the “next cool thing.”  If you have an innovation within a startup you are much more susceptible to having it be starved by a lack of funding to promote it, a lack of time to have it gain traction, or not enough team members to make it excellent.

I am looking forward to working at Google as I will be able to ask the interview question:  “What would you build if you had an infinite amount of CPU/RAM/Disk?” The big reward will be if the candidate is hired and joins the company, I will be able to give them access to an infrastructure that will help them build what they imagine and see if it helps the customer.

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