back to article What is Google doing with its open source teams?

Remember when Google's motto was "Don't be Evil"? I do. Even though Google dumped that phrase from its code of conduct in 2018, many of us still thought Google was a bit better than other companies. We were wrong. Those who were fired last week found out from emails, discovering they no longer had corporate access and their ID …

  1. doublelayer Silver badge

    You thought that?

    "Even though Google dumped that phrase from its code of conduct in 2018, many of us still thought Google was a bit better than other companies."

    Now why did you think that? I won't get into a which tech company is more evil debate here, because for any company that's existed more than a decade, there are some people who think any line of code they write must be simultaneously the most stupid thing ever written and another brick in the wall of corporate dictatorship (I'm thinking of reactions to Microsoft mostly, but they're not the only one). Still, by 2018, Google had lots of dodgy programs going on. Still use their search, still like Android, appreciate the open source stuff, I get why you'd do that, for the same reason why I can acknowledge that Apple's devices have some good features even if the prices are excessive and support too patchy.

    I still don't see any reason why you would consider Google better than the pack by that point. Their privacy record had become clear. Their product support record with Android updates and Chromebook lifetimes was known. Complaints about their anticompetitive activities weren't new and the proof to back them up wasn't hard to find. Since open source is important in your estimation, you could see all the non-open standards they were shoving through W3C and similar bodies at the time, doing significant damage to open standards and making life harder for competitors who were actually writing open source software. Evidently none of this lowered them in your estimation, but firing some open source developers was the last straw. I don't support that either, but I'm a lot less surprised than you seem to be that they did it.

    1. iron Silver badge

      Re: You thought that?

      I always thought the "don't" was added later by someone in PR to disguise their real motto.

    2. Robert Grant

      Re: You thought that?

      They've been villified a lot, despite in my mind being the most engineering-friendly cloud platform, and doing loads of good stuff like open sourcing VP8, starting Kubernetes, making AlphaFold, making Go, running Android, etc. They're obviously not perfect, but I think this is to be expected based on the commentary they get in the media.

  2. Timto

    On the upside

    The new startups that threaten Google in 10years are probably being planned now by the former Google employees who have just been laid off.

    Some of them will probably earn billions by selling their inventions back to Google too.

    1. steviebuk Silver badge

      Re: On the upside

      Or Google will be arseholes like a lot of the big companies and claim "That idea you're trying to run with after we fired you. That's our property. You had that "thought" when you were on Google campus, we know this because you told Dave during your lunch break in the Google cafe. So, technically, its now our IP. Give it us or will sue you until you cave."

  3. Charlie Clark Silver badge

    These are not the people anyone in their right mind, or HR container, would want to fire.

    Why not? How do you know?

    1. Filippo Silver badge

      Re: These are not the people anyone in their right mind, or HR container, would want to fire.

      Because... the whole article?

      You may disagree with the author, but he did explain exactly why not and how he knows. If the explanations don't work for you, fine, but pretending they don't exist isn't a useful comment.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    With this massive uplift in staff have google actually delivered anything groundbreaking in the last 5 years?

    1. Timto

      I'm sure there are plenty of projects that have delivered ground-breaking results but you'd have to work for the C.I.A to know about them

    2. Gene Cash Silver badge

      Sure, but then it was discontinued 6 months later... https://killedbygoogle.com/

    3. tojb
      Terminator

      Some ai stuff

      https://arxiv.org/abs/2010.07067 g helped develop a nice neural network for shortcutting tedious quantum mechanics calculations. And alphafold of course, this has made a big splash in protein folding science

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Devil

    "it's not the administrative and marketing staff making that kind of money"

    Actually, there are people who think exactly that - and in a company that makes money hoarding user data to sell ads - and which hasn't delivered anything innovative since its search engine, it's exactly the people it needs. Everything else can be bought outside if the need occurs - just like Android.

    And Google is interested in open source just as long as it finds something to exploit in it - once something is no longer exploitable, it's just ballast. Better to get rid of it and pump the stock value a little, or investors get angry even if they still hoard billions, those huge yachts, planes and islands doesn't pay for themselves - and you still have to show that (your account) is still longer than others'

    1. localzuk

      Re: "it's not the administrative and marketing staff making that kind of money"

      Nothing innovating since the search engine? Really?

      It completely changed online ad marketing. Gmail completely changed "free" email services (remember your old 20MB quotas?). Google Apps was launched in 2006, and that was incredibly innovative. Google Chrome? Went from being non-existent to dominating the browser market - eventually entirely killing IE. Android? Google Maps? Street View? Translate?

      Google's innovations are a long list.

      It just happens to be their list of total flops is much longer, and seems to overshadow their achievements in everyone's minds.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    At least "our employees are our biggest value" still holds true

    How else will you bolster figures if you don't have a lot of staff to sack?

    That said, the whole "Don't be evil" should have set off alarm bells the moment the very phrase was uttered so I can't really see that as a guide to what the company would get up to.

    1. doublelayer Silver badge

      Re: At least "our employees are our biggest value" still holds true

      "That said, the whole "Don't be evil" should have set off alarm bells the moment the very phrase was uttered so I can't really see that as a guide to what the company would get up to."

      I disagree. It fits pretty well as a call to caution indicating that this company has a lot of power and therefore a lot of ways it can use that power in a damaging way. They had a responsibility not to do those things. Of course, anyone has a responsibility not to do evil things, but that responsibility is even more important for people who have the power either to drive good outcomes or to cause serious damage by their actions, and I don't think that acknowledging that responsibility is a problem. It didn't take that long for them to abandon that responsibility and drop the unused warning.

      Amusingly, one of the people who could have written it, Paul Buchheit, said that he wanted something that would be hard to take out if you got it written. Sorry Paul, looks like they didn't find it that hard to ignore it and then demote it twice.

  7. 8mbssd

    There's a reason these people have been laid off and Google has to run their business. While it might be that people high up get highly overpaid, I think that, in general, cutting these wages wouldn't be able to make the company recover. Over COVID, Google hired far too many employees and have only just realised that it's not economically viable for a company, even if it makes the money that Google does, to continue providing so many benefits and excess staff. While I think it's sad that they are laying off mainly the people working for open source projects, sadly, in this capitalist society, where there's no money to be made, sometimes it has to be cut.

    1. ragnar

      How can it not be economically viable to keep these employees when they made 60 billion, that’s billion, in profit?

      That’s an after-wage figure.

      1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

        Businesses aren't charities: if they decide to get out of a particular segment and can't reassign the employees effectively, this is exactly what you should do.

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Yes but if you aren't doing a 1st year business class you think a little beyond the immediate effects.

          In the next upturn you are going to be competing for people to hire. If it seems Luke you are the sort of place that just fires people from a spreadsheet it might incline the best people to go and work for Apple. The juniors who want to work with them will follow.

          Imagine if IBM actually tried to hire top talent now, how much over market would they have to pay to convince people to risk moving?

          1. Ace2 Silver badge

            I (mid-40s) would be happy to work for IBM… on a contract with an escalating series of buyout clauses for when I hit 50, 55, 60…

          2. Youngone Silver badge

            My son, who is just beginning his career was approached by a recruiter recently wondering if he wanted to look at a new opportunity?

            Eventually she admitted it was IBM, and when he laughed and said "no thanks" she sighed, and said "sorry to bother you".

          3. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

            Seriously! All this n'th generation large language model AI and my Google phone auto-completes "like" as "Luke"

          4. Charlie Clark Silver badge

            You don't seem to have read my post clearly: if you can reassign good people to different projects, then you should. If, however, you brought people on board for specific projects, which you have deciced no longer to pursue and can't find something suitable for the people, then termination is the thing to do. This has nothing whatsoever to do with management by spreadsheet or headcount models, which I agree, are generally very damaging over the long term.

        2. Timop

          1. Sack 90% of workforce

          2. Next groundbreaking product magically appears

          3. Earn gazillion dollars and no need to share it with greedy employees demanding getting paid monthly

          Standard bean counter stuff.

          I am starting to believe that lean etc was rebranding with the sole purpose of stripping long term commitment to employees and ability to rotate jobs and other nice stuff for employees from Toyota Production System.

          1. Binraider Silver badge

            Lean, Six Sigma, Performance Excellence. Various other flavours of the same theory are available from various management consultants.

            The starting assumption that everything is a production line is flawed. No matter how much you squint your eyes, many operations, especially services, do not fit the model constraints as a factory floor.

            Unipart was one of the big proponents of Performance Excellence; and it's particular brand of consultancy. If the process was that good, why did the parent corporation implode? Sometimes the lesson to learn isn't the one the salesman is pitching.

  8. Bubba Von Braun

    So many companies talk about their greatest asset are the people they have working for them. Well when it comes to most corporates, seems the reverse is true as they see them as a liability.

    They demand dedication and in some cases huge working hours, they apply the salve of perks to keep you there working your ass off, yet when the profit drops not even perilously out comes the razors as they slash to make the share price look good for this reporting period or the next.

    Folks wonder why we dont do great things anymore, its because companies are so caught up in short-term thinking, and the easiest way to placate the market is to slash the FTE count mindlessly without a view to the future.

    Let open source continue to grow from strength to strength and let these fine people rise about their corporate experience to continue to foster the creation of great things.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      When you hear companies refer to employees as "assets", most valuable or not, it's important to remember that as far as company accounting is concerned, "assets" depreciate.

      And, when it's financially expedient, they can and will be written off.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        You only need to worry when they refer to employees as "donors"

    2. John Miles

      Re: their greatest asset are the people they have working for them

      Dilbert has covered that - 3 March 1993

  9. Sceptic Tank Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Down on your luck. It's tough.

    Well boo-hoo. It's not your company. Don't like it? Start your own company. Maybe that $500,000 to $1,000,000 salary you were earning will help to drive away the tears for a little while.

    1. Version 1.0 Silver badge
      Meh

      Re: Down on your luck. It's tough.

      That's about what Google was earning when it said "Don't be Evil" - originally just a few million initially. The statement "Don't be Evil" lead to it making hundred's of millions and then realizing that being evil was profitable these days. But to be fair, Google doesn't generate malware or any cryptocurrency crimes so it's still a slightly good company that seems to be starting to be acting profitably without worrying about being evil occasionally so it's just a normal company earning billions nowadays.

  10. bernardo.ortiz

    FYI - definition of layoffs (as opposed to firing) is getting rid of those you do like, including best and brightest. You do it because you don't have the resources to keep them employed. Layoffs are never a good thing.

    1. Timop

      Yes if you define "no resources" through shareholder demands about exceeding certain level of ROI for each quarter. Naturally the level should exceed the level of previous quarter.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not defending Google but this is a bit of non-news really. All companies lay off staff, usually their best when under financial pressure. I've been there three times. It sucks for them but then I don't feel too sorry as they were clearly on a goof earner and if they are as good as the articles implies, they won't be in the market for long. And every one of my layoffs, whilst painful at the time, propelled my career up a level and my new employer valued my skills and experiences.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      And every one of my layoffs, whilst painful at the time,

      propelled my career up a level and my new employer valued my skills and experiences.

      And then I woke up!

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The end

    I think there are enough smart people left at Google to see that the company is failing, but there's too much product baggage to do anything about it. Slashing costs and selling your RSUs is the easy and greedy fix.

    As it happened 22 years ago, speculations of advertising riches are fading into the reality of nobody liking or watching ads. Google is searching for the next big thing while burdened maintaining a monopolistic software ecosystem that is no longer producing the profits investors dreamt of.

    The next big thing might be AI assistance, but Google's long reputation for abusing personal data and killing services will never let that become a product.

  13. M.V. Lipvig Silver badge
    Pirate

    I don't know about anyone else,

    but I'm going to hope at least one of these best and brightest has a backdoor into their system, and runs a pre-prepared program that wipes the lot. And I do mean the lot, backups and all. Surely there's a way to have a progam that runs that will encrypt backups for security, that without the correct number in field A on line 938475, means that none of the backups will ever load, and only Joe Spiffyprogrammer knows the correct number and field. Everything broke and no backups working, and none of the people still on the payroll can put Humpty Googley together again? One data slurper down the tubes, perhaps the rest will follow.

    Oh well, a boy can dream, can't? A boy can dream?

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Wake up you clueless idiots!

    Wake up you clueless idiots (Computer Science term)! Google is the most EVIL CORPORATION in history! Long ago it was infiltrated by Chinese spies and other foreign trash! Watch the spying Google captcha fail over and over (made by a Chinese spy)!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Wake up you clueless idiots!

      amanfrommars has really gone downhill.....

  15. Sampler

    Stock

    For a company making tens of billions each quarter, why do they need stocks? Surely they're sat on such a large pile of cash that they could buy back their shares and be holden to themselves, not short-interested investors?

    Oh, it's how the c-suite make their eyewatering paycheques even larger? Right, gotcha...

  16. trindflo Silver badge
    Flame

    In case anyone has missed the reference to Christopher Hohn

    First, thanks for article Steven! This is something anyone in this business should be aware of.

    TCI is working hard to reset salaries for technologists. This is definitely about money, but it isn't so much about how much money TCI is making as how much money technologists are making. That is why the people being targeted were in the crosshairs. A cabal of investors do not want nouveau riche company.

    Alphabet is reacting to something very much like orders from a major investor.

    Check out the letter from Christopher Hohn to Sundar Pichai. This is from the TCI website: https://www.tcifund.com/files/corporateengageement/alphabet/15th November 2022.pdf

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Samba

    Allison certainly made great contributions to Samba but Tridge was its creator.

    1. Jeremy Allison

      Re: Samba

      Absolutely correct. I always refer to myself (after asking Tridge) as co-creator. Tridge is (and always was) the smart one :-). He invented the rsync algorithm for heavens sake !

      https://www.computerworld.com/article/2775261/australia-s-samba-man-gets-smartest-person-nod.html

  18. simpfeld

    Google is Open Source done differently

    When you look at most Google Open Source projects, there is no real community directed activity.

    It's just Google chucks it over the wall.

    Android is like this

    Another example. Chromium has no ability to sync passwords, bookmarks, passwords etc to anything that isn't Google's cloud.

    Bugs for this are just closed for Chromium,

  19. breakfast Silver badge

    "They couldn't care less about whether Google ... actually delivers good products and services."

    In fairness, anyone who has tried to use Google's search engine over the last year might have been persuaded that Google also couldn't care less about whether they actually deliver good products and services.

    Letting hedge funds run your company is dumb, of course it is, in fact I don't entirely know why hedge funds need to exist at all, they seem entirely parasitic. And yet allowing them to run the company is a decision, and one the board are presumably making. If they don't have the wit or courage to steer a company wisely with an eye to the long term, then they deserve to suffer the consequences of that.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How they were chosen

    "How were they chosen? Good question."

    Years ago, this was (french bureaucracy style) an HR droid with Excel, sorting on seniority/salary ... Then whatever was doing the needed cost reduction would do.

    "It has been widely reported that some of the firing was done by an algorithm."

    Possibly, maybe said HR droid appeared in his filter. Oooops. Need to replace them cheap !

    "What the hell, Google?"

    Well, every ML or AI model has to be given criterias and weights. If said factors never mentioned "image of Google" or "software/open source excellence", you have what you programmed for ...

  21. Tubz Silver badge

    Rich are not happy unless they are getting richer. Like kids in a playground, if one is making more than another, time to throw a tantrum, toys out of pram and demand more for less.

  22. thehh

    Are layoffs really bad for the industry?

    Seems to me like the focus should not be on the layoffs but rather on the excessive hiring of people in 2021, and the outrageous salaries for (very talented) people with little contribution to Google's tech or business.

    So many startups and small companies struggle to find talent because people can't resist the temptation of Google's (of Meta's) amazing compensation, even for a mind-numbing job.

    These layoffs will benefit the industry as a whole and possibly improve the lives of many of the ones laid off by providing them the nudge they needed to join something new and exciting.

  23. Unix

    Google’s AI/ML are useless for pros.

    After you mentioned about Google’s open source AI/ML like tensorflow and mediapipe… please, these are useless for any serious development for professional developers. No professional is ever going to touch those frameworks. Trust me. Specially for pros who works down to the transistors.

    People who uses those open source tools are nothing but tools themselves. Good thing google fired them. I hope they start doing things how the world is implementing development. Stop reinventing the wheel.

    I’m a serious programmer and I couldn’t make use of those google AI/ML frameworks. They seriously complicated things, they were “redesigning the wheel”. Like WTF is bazel? I had to use that crap to build tensorflow and media pipe? What a shame, what a shame. I simply ditch those frameworks. Just like many other professionals. We don’t touch or play with languages or standards used by tools.

    We play with C/C++, verilog, assembly and cmake. I hope you get what I’m talking about. Lazy languages does no justice for the world.

    I had to look else where to get things working. I’m not going have my team and company waste weeks to learn bazel to build a project.

    “Dlib” is a wonderful and a lifesaver AI/ML framework, it works straight out the box with no headaches, it is written in C/C++ using cmake.

    I could easily make few startup companies that are meaningful to the world using “dlib” down to the transistor.

    Cmake is the gold standard and will always be so.

    Google was doing things to complicate things for open source and do things “their way or no way”, this will turn into their demise.

    Since competitors who use simple implementations to allow users all over the world to build, test and use their products using common standards like c/++ and cmake will always do better because it’s proven, tried and true.

    And please don’t mention about rust. That too will be worthless in the future.

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