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I’m Feeling Lucky: The Confessions of Google Employee Number 59

Douglas Edwards

Google has a fearsome Austrian named Gerald Aigner as price negotiator, who was notorious for crushing vendors to the point where they refused to negotiate with him again. When Google needed data centres in Ireland he went to the three main vendors and pitted them against each other to win the job. Then, when he'd brow beaten them into deep concessions, he signed up with all three - Google needed all the capacity they could buy, but there was no point in revealing that in advance. He made a point of knowing everything about the companies with which he was negotiating - their cost structures, their break-even points, the amount they paid for power.

When author joined Google he took a $25,000 pay cut, but got stock options. This is how they worked: each option locked in the purchase price for a single share of stock, set at the stock's value the day the option was granted (the "strike price"). Even if the share's price had skyrocketed by the time I actually exercised my option and bought the stock, you still pay only the strike price. Companies usually offered their first hires significant numbers of hares but got stingier as the company grew. The earlier you joined, the greater the risk. The more risk, the greater the potential reward. Buy low, sell extremely high, retire young.

For tax reasons, it's advisable to buy yr options at the time they're issued. Author's share options offered at 20 cents, but he was broke ("My capital was tied up in a significant stake in soft toys and flame-retardant pyjamas"). He borrowed the money from his parents, despite the scepticism of both them and his wife.

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Sergey wanted to change the logo periodically - author strongly disagreed, but S went ahead regardless. NYU professor Ken Perlin created a bouncing heart applet for Mother's Day and a bouncing bunny game for Easter. larry showed his gratitude with an offer of Google stock sufficient to make the code Ken sent us, line for line, quite possibly the most expensive ever written in the history of computers.

Similar disagreement when Larry wanted to implement a DIY advertising system. Anyone who had a credit card cd post an ad live on Google, without anyone verifying that they complied with terms and conditions. Edwards warned that pornographic, racist or defamatory ads wd appear. A lot of others at Google agreed with him, but bosses decided on a "let's try it and see" approach. It turned out to work fine, and the few contentious ads unnoticed in sea of useful ones. "Would Google never tire of succeeding with big ideas that I found patently ludicrous? It was starting to make me feel like a crotchety geezer yelling at kids to get off his lawn."

(The author is quite impressively humble/self-deprecating - an interesting contrast to Paul Allen, in Idea Man, which comes across much more as a somewhat bitter guy trying to even the score.)

More books on Individuals Next problem was what to call it: Edwards had a few suggestions, but it was the last one on his list - AdWords - that got most support. Then he pointed out that he named it after himself. (Until that stage I hadn't registered the author's name at all - had to go back to the cover and see what the hell he was talking about - but an effective way of getting reader to notice/remember his name)

To test first ad system, Google joined Amazon's affiliate system, which paid a small bounty if someone clicked through to Amazon from one of their ads. Google dumped several hundred thousand titles into the system, which started spewing millions of ads across Google every time someone searched for the name of a book or author. Didn't earn a fortune, but did prove system.

Google's translation service a part of the policy of getting other people to do their work for free. Today it's called crowd-sourcing, they just called it 'cutting costs'. Google parsed all it's tough problems into manageable pieces and parceled them out. Did the same with hardware - instead of expensive mini-computers, Google used thousands of cheap small computers working in parallel.

More books on Computers Big contract with AOL a big risk if Google didn't meet projections. But they in fact ran well above even the highest expectations. Part of that shift may have been attributable to a very small shift made by an enterprising engineer who changed the code so that the keyword the user had searched for appeared in boldface in the accompanying ads, making it obvious that the ad was relevant (or helping him change search terms if unexpected things cropped up). That single improvement increased clickthrough rates by 400%.

Google has "real time" display in main reception that shows terms people are searching for. The query scroll is carefully screened for offensive terms. Early on, Larry insisted on the removal of the filter, over the objections of engineer who designed it. The two dozen people who worked for Google at that time watched the raw data feed in shock as a large percentage of the terms were pornographic. "Ohmigod. That's what people are using Google for?" After 15 minutes, Larry told them to put the filter back up.

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London Sunday Times column on I'm Feeling Lucky

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