Google's fallibility: Daycare that only an elitist could love (and afford)

Google wants to be the best on the planet, but it's increasingly growing impatient when its employees expect it to live up to its own hype. Daycare is just the latest example.

Google continues to be at the top of its game, shoving Microsoft and Yahoo! aside in search market share and pushing into new markets, like its innovative slant on collaboration with Google Docs. But in one area Google is proving to be human, all too human:

Daycare.

The New York Times dissects Google's recent problems with its daycare (allegedly jacking up the price to accommodate Sergey Brin's sister-in-law's beliefs on the one true way to do daycare), concluding:

Google may be providing the greatest day care ever, but so what? It doesn't matter how good the day care is if only its wealthiest employees can afford to use it. If Google had really wanted to do something path-breaking about its day care crisis, it would have spent less time creating elitist day care centers and more time figuring out how to "scale" day care for everybody no matter what their salaries.

Instead, Google has shown that it thinks about day care the same way every other company does -- as a luxury, not a benefit. Judging by what's transpired, that's what Google is fast becoming: just another company.

Which is not to say that Google is a bad company. My problem with the situation is that Google felt the need to turn daycare into such an elitist experiment in the first place, making it so expensive that it then had to resort to tactics to shed many of its employees from the daycare rolls who wanted the service. (Read the Times' article for the details.)

Along the way, during meetings with concerned parents, Google's Sergey Brin apparently said that "he had no sympathy for the parents, and that he was tired of 'Googlers' who felt entitled to perks like 'bottled water and M&Ms'." I bet. But that's precisely the culture Brin has helped to foster at Google, and it is his sister-in-law who turned the daycare system into an entitlement so overwrought that Google was bound to have to cancel it for many of its employees...and then face their ire.

Google hasn't done anything egregiously wrong. It simply built up expectations too high. What will happen when the Oddwallas are replaced by bottled water (generic, not Evian)? When the organics-laden cafeterias give way to preservative-laced cafeterias?

As Google becomes mortal - something that it increasingly appears to be as its stock drifts - it will become more and more like other companies. Is it prepared to suffer this blow to its own self-created myths?

I think it is. But the company will need to start weaning its employees from the entitlement-nipple it has created for them, starting now.

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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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