Google: Not all geeks are created equal

The Internet giant is awash with geeks, yet somehow manages to write consumer-friendly software. What's its secret?

There must be something in the water in Mountain View, Calif. Or maybe it's the backrubs.

Google, notorious for its engineering-driven culture, really shouldn't be able to consistently crank out consumer-friendly products. But it does./p>

No, it's not perfect, as its somewhat inept forays into social networking have demonstrated, but for a company filled with 20,000-plus geeks, its software is decidedly non-geeky.

What's the secret?

After all, the open-source world is also dominated by engineers, but we have historically been accused (often correctly) as developers developing geeky software for other developers.

How are Google's engineers somehow more consumer-savvy than those within the open-source community, particularly given that Google engineers actively participate in so many of the UI-challenged open-source projects referenced above?

I can think of at least two good reasons.

First, Google engineers are united by a common mission: "to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful." An open-source project need not serve any constituents beyond the developers actively participating in writing it. For Google, however, the goal is universal accessibility and utility.

Second, Google engineers may not be your typical open-source developers. They're "social geeks," as one friend with both Google and open-source experience suggested to me.

I've never met either Sergey Brin or Larry Page, but those who have describe them as social and approachable, while being incredibly smart. This combination of smart with social has been passed down through the rigorous Google interview process to ensure that new employees fit the old Google mold established by its founders.

Perhaps there are other reasons that you can suggest, and perhaps it's fair to say that while Google's technology is not as geeky as a lot of the code found on Sourceforge.net, it's nowhere near as user-friendly as Apple's or Microsoft's technology.

But those companies have a super-dose of marketing thrown in to keep the engineers in line. Google really doesn't, and yet it manages to coax consumer-friendly software out of an army of developers that looks very different from Main Street USA.

About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.

     

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