Category Archives: Google? Doh!

Why programmers (engineers) don’t want to work for Google any more…

Kev wrote a short Tumblr on why he no longer wants to work at Google.

I am fairly sure this is a wider, expanding trend: great programmers have lost interest/faith in Google as an employer. I’ve tried (ineffectually) to explain this to some of my Googler friends – but I’ve tended to cite too much info, and I think Kev pinpoints it quite nicely:

“Google’s foundation is it’s image. … For years we’ve all loved them. Even if sometimes their products fail and don’t provide the experience we want we’re all thinking it’s Google, their nice, they do things for free…The long and the short of it is Google has done very off the good feeling they’ve generated in the user community at large. The vision of the philanthropic behemoth doing things for the people. Not acting like a huge faceless corporation and doing things “the right way”.

Looking at it now though … Google are starting down that slippery path to the dark side. Reader is the obvious case but if you look a bit deeper you’ll see a general tend towards money first – people second culture.

So, why would I want to work for Google now? I could choose any big company with a big chunk of cash and a whole bunch of crazy ideas. There’s plenty of them around and Google is heading rapidly toward being “just another”. It’s Google right? Wrong.”

Google went from being the forefront of modern, healthy, human-centric company culture … to a mid-tier, second-rate excuse for bad practices and “it sucks but we can’t change it” culture. Like Kev, I noticed this (and you’ll see my Google-related blog posts over the years see-sawing between praise and hatred, like a manic depressive). But for the most part I convinced myself it was probably the teething-pains of corporate growth; mis-reported; sensationalized.

That was until I had first-hand experience of Google Europe’s disastrous hiring process. I went through a recruiter who repeatedly forgot to turn up, staff with no relevance to the role (and who declared their hatred of it), 1950’s mock-psychological interview questions, and a wilful avoidance of Employment/Privacy Law (I hit them with a DPA when I caught their HR lying to me).

… well, after all that … if you got the job, and accepted … what kind of team-members do you think you’d end up with? Is this a process that attracts great people – or turns them off?

That’s the critical point: when joining a company you expect to work for more than just a half year or so, the interview is as much a chance for you to feel that they’re recruiting people you like, people you respect – your current and future team-mates.

I know Kev (author of the post linked above) – and he’s not the kind of person to turn Sour Grapes on a failed interview. He’s a great programmer, skilled, innovative, and pragmatic. Very much the kind of engineer I’d want to work with – but also the kind I’d expect to smile and politely decline when confronted with the Google hiring process.

Which is what decided me against them for good. Although it’s a wonderful environment, and in many ways I’d love to work there … life’s too short to go without: colleagues you respect, and a culture you love.

Android Dev: Eclipse won’t start? Hangs at splash screen? Kill Mylyn…

For the last couple of months, one of our dev machines has been literally incapable of opening a simple Android project. It crashes every time, on startup, while displaying the Eclipse logo:

Screen Shot 2013-04-05 at 14.45.54

Re-installing everything had no effect. We tried everything, and the only thing that worked reliably was to keep deleting the project and re-synching from SVN every time we wanted to start Eclipse

Today I finally discovered the cause: Mylyn

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The new gmail: Downgraded, hated by users

I really don’t understand this. My best guess: there’s a new Senior Manager at Google who was doing badly in their peer-reviews, and was determined to “make their mark” by changing Gmail – if necessary over the cold, dead bodies of the thousands of people pointing out that this is a bad idea.

I thought Google was a company that prided itself on taking the best of a group of people, and putting “Product” concerns above all else?

But this week they forced a change on all several hundred million users that removes core features, breaks existing features, and adds only 1 minor feature (you can compose two emails at once without opening a new tab).

Let’s run through it, using Google’s own “Learn more” page as a reference.

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Google continues to delete user data … grr.

Just lost some work because Google staff still don’t understand this idea that “the internet is a non-reliable network”.

(Google Docs simply deletes your data – retroactively – if the internet connection goes away. It’s that “retroactively” part that’s the killer)

Makes you wonder what calibre of engineer they’re employing these days :(.

Gmail NEVER LOADS in Firefox? Cookies cleared, still get a blank screen? Try this…

After trying 4 or 5 things from this several-years-old page on Firefox’s support forums, I finally hit upon one that worked:

“For the heck of it tonight I clicked on Gmail in my calendar and it finally went to my gmail inbox.”

In my case, I just went to Google Groups, and clicked the Gmail link from the top navbar. Lo and behold – it works!

(this is after a week of having no way to access Gmail from my main web browser)

Why?

Looking at the problems other people have had, my guess is that Google’s code for running Gmail has some illegal (i.e. breaks-the-standard) bits in there that try to get around the browser standards by doing silly things with caching. Some of those are … fragile, perhaps … and tend to break easily. Over time, Google has added more and more unnecessary “features” to that code (e.g. I often have to wait for “connecting to google chat”, even though I have google chat permanently disabled and will never EVER use it) … there’s a *lot* of code in there these days; lots that could go wrong!

Normally, a Refresh of a page would fix this – that’s how the WWW was designed in the first place, as a core feature – but Google’s (my guess) playing so fast-and-loose that they’re *also* (deliberately? or accidentally?) bypassing the refresh. I can imagine several well-meaning reasons they might do that, but in the end I’d rather they stuck to the standards, instead of creating these “breaks permanently” problems for people.

And, of course, there’s no Google support for this problem. Once it strikes you, GOOD LUCK! (you’ll need it)

Google’s Strengths & Weaknesses in 2012

In the past, I’ve had terrible advice from brilliant people. The best way to avoid that is to be careful to research the brilliant person and tailor your questions to avoid their weaknesses.

Tomorrow I’ll be meeting a bunch of people at Google London’s open day. I started by writing down a list of known strengths/weaknesses based on my knowledge and experience of the company and the people. Earlier this year I had some in depth meetings with Facebook, which gave me a fresh perspective on the similarities and differences. I think the list itself is interesting – modulo: it’s only my personal impressions:

google strengths

[comments in brackets to clarify some non-obvious points for anyone reading this]

  • innovating on the Web
  • bringing native tech to Web and making it as good as native
  • software development
  • worlds biggest/most popular search engine
  • …? focus on curation ?… [Page ranking etc is subtle curation]
  • tech brand associated with “quality”
  • massive scale advertising
  • algorithms for automating heuristic tasks (imperfect, vague domains)
  • enormous scale data manipulation
  • throwing hardware at impossible problems to make them possible [Street View]

google weaknesses

  • community [in general, but also specifically: Google Groups]
  • consumer marketing [many Googlers have said “we don’t need to; the brand is enough”]
  • building products that people want, rather than products Google staff enjoy [Wave, Buzz, Google Voice]
  • understanding consumers [Android]

Google Docs 2012: Google loses your documents

Beware – latest version of Google Docs has the Gmail bug whereby emails (documents) randomly disappear and become completely inaccessible (this happens a few times a year with Gmail’s IMAP client). With Gmail, you can use the web interface to get around it and see the actual email – but with Google Docs, I don’t know of an alternative route. What you get is that Google appears to have deleted your data, with no comeback.

I just saw it now with Google Docs where a doc created yesterday allegedly didn’t exist any more – it had been removed from history, from recent documents, and … most distressing of all … it resulted in zero hits if you searched for it.

Solution?

There’s none – it’s just Google’s software being stunningly bad (again).

You have to wait. And pray. And wait some more. And click random things. And pray some more.

For me, clicking around on the different tabs on the left hand side (Home, All Items, Owned by Me) after a minute or so it randomly reappeared.

SaaS In the Cloud: Screwing the User, yet again…

I’m coming back to this topic more and more, because these abuses of web and HTML services are getting more and more damaging to the users.

If the “old” version of Google Docs doesn’t have this bug, it doesn’t matter – Google has already confiscated it from us. Unlike the core concept of desktop, laptop, and home computers … Google repeatedly takes the software that you possessed, and destroys it, for no reason other than to make things a little easier for engineers who don’t like to support the bad code they shipped.

That’s what this is about: people who use Cloud/SaaS to avoid taking responsibility for the apps they created.

Google: please hire a UX person for Gmail

Who at Google even thought this sounded like a good idea?

1994 phoned: they want their GeoCities school of web design back.

(I’ve had to switch to non-javascript Gmail because the latest “forced update” of Gmail has some JS bugs in it that make it run very slow, lose emails, and overheat my laptop. Triple whammy (all because of a bug in a javascript somewhere, so far as I can tell))

YouTube desperate for cash? adverts now “interrupt”, kill slow broadband connections

Noticed something new tonight…

  1. Started watching YouTube video
  2. Hit “Pause” because Google’s Flash code is dismal (crashes frequently, since the update from approx a week ago) and works badly on slow connections; you have to let it pre-load a big chunk
  3. YouTube response: the video stops, and an advert starts instead
  4. …which (so far this week) nearly always crashes Google’s video playback code, so you have to refresh the page, and start all over again

EDIT: incidentally, this is why it makes me so sad when Google Engineers say: “the web is so great! We can remotely nuke every version of Google products, force all users to lose everything and MAKE them have our latest version! They have no choice – it’s perfect!” … because it so often – even with Google – translates to: “we can force them to lose our decent, quality, working code, and force them to move to our buggiest, broken, badly designed, crappy versions – and give them zero power over their own computers!”

Meanwhile, for the first time ever:

Going to any video on YouTube now automatically logs my gmail email account against that youtube video, even though the two things are completely unrelated

WTF? #signs_that_the_google-pocalypse_is_nigh

I guess the big G is seriously hurting for money at the moment… crappy “in your face” advertising, plus some creepy “steal your data, screw the user for all they’ve got” privacy-violation … I’m disappointed; I thought they’d hold out longer than this.

Aside: Black-Hat UX optimization from Google?

This is so deliberate and in-your-face bad UX design – from a world leader in stats-lead-design, no less – that I’m hard pressed to explain it as anything but black-hat (i.e. deliberately designed to fool the user).

e.g. The link to “manage” the YouTube integration … doesn’t work, it just takes you to youtube.com. And the link to complain – “Send Feedback” – is a dead link that doesn’t do anything when clicked.

The “edit [services]” link (which is carefully hidden, to prevent the user from exercising control) doesn’t work either – it redirects to a lo-fi version of the page you came from previously.

It’s almost as if they didn’t want you to fight back! :)

Google interview questions: beware the Interviewer

This is from 4 years ago, courtesy of Steve Yegge. I just came across it by accident, it’s wonderfully well written, but one bit caught my attention in particular:

“First, you can’t tell interviewers what’s important. Not at any company. Not unless they’re specifically asking you for advice.”

Wait – what? … why not? Surely – if you’re being an honest candidate – your views on what’s important are a huge part of the interview process? These people want to know what you’ll be like as a colleague, how you tick – no?

“You have a very narrow window of perhaps one year after an engineer graduates from college to inculcate them in the art of interviewing, after which the window closes and they believe they are a “good interviewer” and they don’t need to change their questions, their question styles, their interviewing style, or their feedback style, ever again.”

Ah. Right. Yes, makes sense now. Sad, but true.

I will also add: for all the reasons Steve cited, I *do not run interviews this way*, and haven’t for a long time now. In my late twenties, I learnt the hard way how stupid a lot of those practices are.

Looking back at my sole Google interview, it explains a lot: I had no idea that Google accepted / allowed these practices among their interviewers – I’d assumed they’d have actively stamped them out. Apparently not. It was a big part of why I never considered Google again: if “A people hire A people” and “B people hire C people”, that part of Google’s process stank of the B people. Not a place I wanted to work…

Of course, Steve’s still writing about Google’s hiring, and his criticisms seem to be getting sharper over time. Just last year, he dropped this into a post:

“It’s a match made in heaven, I’m tellin’ ya. It might take you a couple tries to get in the door, because Google’s interview process — what’s the word I’m looking for here — ah yes, their process sucks at letting in all the qualified people. They’re trying to get better at it, but it’s not really Google’s fault so much as the fault of interviewers who insist that you’re not qualified to work there unless you are exactly like them.”

So … given Steve’s one-man crusade to undo the bad work of Google HR, I’d recommend anyone rejected by Google to give them another go. But don’t look at interview prep questions, don’t brush up on obscure programming technique – just read and re-read Steve’s blog posts, and remind yourself that it’s “a stupid process” you’re trying to get past, one that doesn’t fairly represent the company – nor the colleagues – you’ll be working for.

Throw away the iPhone? or throw away Gmail? Decisions, decisions…

For the past week, my iPhone’s have been unable to use Gmail. After approximately 4 hours, gmail locks you out of IMAP completely, unless/until you force-kill Apple’s mail client. The problem is … if you force-kill the client, you lose all emails you wrote, and you lose all emails you filed into IMAP folders (Apple’s client refuses to save state – it requires the server to do it).

Nothing has changed on the phones – and Google has been putting up irritating “stop using gmail, use the new gmail” ads for the same period of time – so I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that someone at Google changed something on the IMAP protocol that makes it no longer work correctly with iPhone.

I just had to write the same email for the second time, and re-file 50+ emails for the third time – and I’m giving up. You just can’t use gmail on an iOS 4 iPhone right now (I’m guessing that iOS 5 works OK, or there’d be an internet rage fest going on.

So. What to do. Dump the iPhone (switch to Android as my main phone, perhaps?)?

Or decide that enough’s enough, gmail is just too damn annoying these days (e.g. the 3 week period earlier this year where “reply all” was disabled on my gmail account) … I’ve heard there’s an email-for-life system called … hotmail?

Hmm…

Google Street-View on iPhone: a lesson in UX design

Today I finally discovered that the iPhone has StreetView.

That means it’s only taken me THREE YEARS to find this secret feature that Google has worked very hard to make sure no-one ever uses.

The best bit? The top two Google results for “iPhone Streetview” were both incorrect, and useless – but claimed to “solve” the problem (one of them was a Yahoo answer, the other a blog).

Eventually, courtesy of this amusingly-titled (yet poor in terms of Google hits) blog post, I found the solution:

  1. There MUST be a pin on screen – either because:
    1. you did a search for a place, and Google has found it and created a pin
    2. you tapped the curled paper in bottom right, then pressed the “drop a pin” button (incidentally: instead of letting you “drop a pin”, that button arbitrarily sticks a non-moveable pin in the center of the (now-hidden) screen. Terrible UX and GUI design. Google’s designers: what were you thinking?)
  2. The popup that’s attached to the pin has a standard button, and a standard icon – BUT THAT ICON IS NOT AN ICON
    1. …it’s an invisible button…

When we’re building iPhone apps for clients, this comes up typically once on every project: if you want to do custom user-interfaces, do NOT make them look like Apple standard interfaces. Apple has trained 200 million (total number of i* devices) to expect that (in this case: ) “a map-popup has exactly one button”. You are fighting against the work of one of the richest companies on the planet, a company famous for its marketing, interface-design, and visual-obsessions.

Worse is if you then go and break all the standards on what a “button” should look like, so that (in Google’s case), they:

  1. Put something in the place that is reserved for a non-clickable icon
  2. Used an icon-image instead of a button-image
  3. Provided no other ways of triggering the feature…even though this is usually NOT the place the user would want to click to get that feature

I laughed out loud when I discovered this – 3 years it’s taken me to get this to work, and me a professional iPhone developer too! How long is it taking the average “normal” user? If nothing else had convinced me Google is fundamentally f***ed by their refusal to design for anything other than “engineers who are exactly like us (and the rest of you plebs don’t matter)”, this would have nailed it for me.