I'm Feeling Lucky: the Confessions of Google Employee Number 59

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 17 July, 2011, 12:00am
 

I'm Feeling Lucky: the Confessions of Google Employee Number 59
by Douglas Edwards
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

So you want to know how Google soared from start-up obscurity to dictionary definition in five years? In I'm Feeling Lucky: the Confessions of Google Employee Number 59, ex-Google marketing guru Douglas Edwards suggests that its success stems from a mix of perfectionism and self-belief. Look no further than the episode where Edwards tells Google co-founder Larry Page that Google is merely right ''more often than not.''

'Larry looked at me with the same stare he had directed at the code on his screen, as if he were trying to decipher some undigested bit of an equation that refused to resolve itself,' Edwards writes.

''More often than not?' he asked me. 'When were we [open italic] ever [close italic] wrong?'

'He didn't smile as he asked his question or arch an eyebrow to signify annoyance. He simply wanted to know when he had been wrong so he could feed that information into the algorithm that ran his model of the universe. If he had made a mistake, he needed to know the specifics so he could factor that into the next iteration of the problem if it reappeared.

''Oh. That's right,' I thought, awakening from my reverie. 'I don't work at a big traditional company anymore. I work at Google.''

From 1999 to 2005, Edwards was the search superpower's director of consumer marketing and brand management. The job meant long hours lightened by free amenities including massage, hockey and gourmet food. But the pace was relentless in step with the 'Googley' ethos of integrity, frugality and efficiency.

The coders roving the Googleplex - the firm's corporate California HQ - come across as supremely capable, unlike Edwards, who paints himself as a bit of a bumbler. His humorous emphasis on exposing his foibles rather than settling scores is endearing.

What a winning contrast I'm Feeling Lucky cuts with another new tech memoir, Idea Man by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.

Edwards' memoir sheds light on seminal events, including the company's 1998 garage debut and later battles with web giants such as Overture, AOL, Yahoo and Inktomi. Each initially looked formidable.

Before becoming 'the GE of IT', like any start-up Google was an underdog with 'arthritic infrastructure'.

'I can't say it inspired confidence to lay my untrained hands on our cheap little generic servers, lying open to the controlled elements on crumbly cork boards, while next door, Inktomi's high priests tended to sleek state-of-the-art machines that loomed like the Death Star,' Edwards writes.

But the cheap little start-up that raised just US$100,000 in seed money evolved inexorably, refining search, sprouting dazzling sidelines. Nifty features that Edwards spotlights range from the page-rating algorithm PageRank and the free webmail program Gmail to those quirky Google home page embellishments, Google Doodles.

With typical candour, Edwards admits he originally opposed Google Doodles. 'Yes, if it had been left to me, there would be no Google Doodles at all; just our cold stiff logo lying in state, wrapped in a sterile sheet of pristine white pixels,' he writes.

The one-time 'online brand group manager' for the San Jose Mercury News writes with wry style worthy of Wired. His droll peek at Google 'under the hood' is sharp and charming - more often than not.

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