August 17, 2011

An inside look at Google’s early days

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Douglas Edwards was “employee number 59,” the director of consumer marketing and brand management at Google from 1999 to 2005. In I’m Feeling Lucky,Edwards gives readers a behind-the-behemoth look at the then-“young” search giant and the absorbing personalities of those who worked there. Although he includes a glossary, you don’t need a technical background or a fluency in geek-speak to find this book fun and fascinating.

Edwards is a straightforward writer, explaining things as he goes. For example, he tells us founding members Larry Page and Sergey Brin chose the name “Google” in part because it “played to their sense of math and scale. . . . Google is a play on ‘googol,’ which is the number one followed by a hundred zeroes.” Even if you’re not an Internet whiz, Edwards writes, “At least you know what Google does. It finds stuff on the Internet.” When he was a Noogler (new hire), he admits, “I didn’t know what a web indexer, a pageranker, or a spidering robot was. I didn’t know how dogmatic engineers could be. I didn’t know how many Internet executives could squeeze into a hot tub or how it felt to ‘earn’ more in one day than I had in 30 years of hard work . . . but I do now.”

I’m Feeling Lucky is an insider’s view of the “Google Experience,” from its famously nonhierarchical corporate structure to the bricks and mortar of the Googleplex itself. Edwards makes clear that his book is not, however, a full history of the company, nor does he delve into current concerns or controversies. “I include only what happened between my first day in 1999 and the day I left in 2005,” he explains. “We weren’t yet worried about network neutrality, street-view data gathering, or off-shore wind farms.” His days were the days when the big issues were “develop the best search technology, sell lots of ads, avoid getting killed by Microsoft.” But what days they were! Prepare for (to quote some chapter titles) “A World Without Form,” where you may encounter “Managers in Hot Tubs and in Hot Water,” or “Rugged Individuals with a Taste for Porn,” where “Mistakes Were Made” but there’s “Real Integrity and Thoughts about God,” too. All in all, I’m Feeling Lucky is an insightful and illuminating peek behind the curtain of Google’s early days.

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