Here’s some insight into what Google’s problems are like lately, direct from an ex-employee. Praveen Seshadri, a founder whose company was acquired by Google, recently quit and dropped a scathing Medium post on his way out the door, detailing the problems he saw in his time at the company. Seshadri says Google is “trapped in a maze of approvals, launch processes, legal reviews, performance reviews, exec reviews,” and other bureaucratic processes, and while the employees are capable, they “get very little done quarter over quarter, year over year.”
Seshadri is the founder of AppSheet, a “no-code development platform” that he started in 2014. After several years of development, Seshadri’s company was acquired by Google Cloud in 2020, and Seshadri spent the next three years turning the app into Google AppSheet. Seshadri left Google the second his “three year mandatory retention period” was up, saying, “I have left Google understanding how a once-great company has slowly ceased to function.”
Seshadri outlines his big problems with the company:
The way I see it, Google has four core cultural problems. They are all the natural consequences of having a money-printing machine called “Ads” that has kept growing relentlessly every year, hiding all other sins.
(1) no mission, (2) no urgency, (3) delusions of exceptionalism, (4) mismanagement.
Seshadri used to work at Microsoft from 1999-2011, so he says, “this is not my first experience watching the gradual decay of a dominant empire.” Today, Seshadri says that “very few Googlers come into work thinking they serve a customer or user,” focusing instead on “a closed world where almost everyone is working only for other Googlers.” The post says that “risk mitigation trumps everything else” at Google, echoing a 2021 New York Times article saying CEO Sundar Pichai built “a paralyzing bureaucracy” while running the company.
Seshadri’s complaints explain a lot of what we see on the outside of the company, where consumers’ needs and wants don’t always feel prioritized. This also isn’t the first time we’ve heard a complaint like this from employees. Former Waze CEO Noam Bardin quit Google in 2021 and, in a blog post, said that employees aren’t incentivized to build Google products. “The product is a tool to advance the employees’ career,” Bardin wrote, “not a passion, mission or economic game changer. Being promoted has more impact on the individuals’ economic success than the product growth. The decision of which product to work on stems from the odds of getting promoted, and thus we began onboarding people with the wrong state of mind—seeing Waze as a stepping stone and not as a calling.” Bardin shared Seshadri’s post on LinkedIn recently, too, adding: “The problem is that no one cares as long as the stock is going up.”
There’s also former Google (and Twitter) engineer Manu Cornet, whose “Goomics” series humorously detailed what life inside of Google was like over the past few years. Several comics point out that Google’s flawed employee evaluation process doesn’t correlate product success or “user happiness” with personal career advancement, so naturally, some products get sacrificed or ignored while employees focus on getting promoted.
It’s worth noting that not all of Google is run like Google. The Android division, in particular, has been called out by other employees as feeling like an entirely different company. Steve Yegge, another esteemed author in the genre of ‘ex-Google employee calls out the company,’ described the culture shock of moving to Android from another part of Google. “Android is not Google,” Yegge wrote. “They have almost nothing to do with each other,” adding that the “infamously prickly organization” runs “more or less autonomously” inside of Google. That might be why Android feels like the most productive, stable, and reliable part of the company, regularly churning out a new OS release at least every year. There also doesn’t seem to be much leadership turnover, and the division rigidly enforces stability and backward compatibility in its software. Maybe the more traditionally run parts of Google should take note.