Thursday, July 05, 2007

Noogler, Day 7: Hard Drives, Books, and an Encouraging Meeting With Managment

I hope you weren't eagerly awaiting a post over the Independence Day holiday. Naturally, I expect you instead were instead doing things that might celebrate the holiday. Some people set off fireworks, some people set up grills; as for me, the last part of my celebration of our nation's independence was watching British sci-fi with Scott.

But that was today. I'm here to talk to you about Tuesday, a day when I was actually at work. Mostly, anyway.

Since I didn't leave here until about 10:00, I decided to take a chance on 101 instead of Central. Since I worked from home so much when I was at Juniper, I never really got the hang of the rush-hour schedules around here, so just hoped that the carpool lane's hours were close enough.

Naturally, they weren't. If my chosen (well, happened-upon) start time was ameliorating rush hour, I could find no sign of it. Instead, I found myself sitting on the highway, thinking about better ways to organize my music playlists.

When I got to work, I didn't even bother going to my office. (I still type "cube" every time. I'll get over that someday, I expect. Maybe I'll put the right year on checks, too.) I just sat down on a couch and turned on the company-issued laptop.

As you might recall, Monday concluded with me hearing the dreaded Click Of Death that signals impending hard drive failure. I wanted to make sure I heard it right, and that it wasn't just some sonic artifact... say, somebody walking by wearing tap shoes. I had chosen this particular couch this morning, not because it had a lower chance of somebody passing with a shim sham shimmy, but rather because it was strategically close to the techs. Since I was fairly certain the drive was faulty, I figured why go all the way to my office then back to the techs?

One of them passed by on his way in, asking how the new computer was doing. I told him that I believed I'd heard the Click Of Death, and he instantly knew what I was talking about. (I told you it was a well-known failure mode.) He went in while I waited for the drive to start failing.

Unfortunately, sure enough, the computer dutifully started clicking after about ten minutes. (Usually, a drive needs to heat up a little before it starts clicking; this can take anywhere from five minutes to two hours.) I walked over to the tech who had greeted me this morning and announced the symptom. I left my laptop with him; he has no idea when the backorders will be filled.

Back to my office, back to work. I spent most of the morning working on HR details. After I decided I had enough of comparing benefits plans, I went outside to clear my head. Lo and behold, there's a truck full of books sitting just outside the door!

The Mountain View Public Library bookmobile visits Google every Wednesday usually, but since Wednesday is a holiday, they decided that Tuesday would be better. I spoke with the librarians a bit about the selection, got a library card (I don't have one from Mountain View; just three cities in West Texas and two others in the South Bay), and looked over what they had.

The media section seemed most heavily stocked; looks like DVDs and videos are pretty popular. Among books, I'd estimate about 3/8 children's, 1/4 non-fiction, 1/4 escapism (sci-fi, fantasy, mystery), and 1/8 general fiction. But that's just a quick estimate.

I picked out Metamagical Themas, by Douglas Hofstadter. It's a collection of articles he wrote for Scientific American. They deal with logic, language, cognition, and the like. It was in one of these articles where Nomic (which I mentioned in Day 5) was first published. If you're bored and you have a set of Scrabble tiles handy, you can work out for yourself an anagram for the title. It's the name of the column that preceded Hofstadter's.

Back to the office, I left the book on the table and got back to work. Before I knew it, my gym hour was fast approaching. Now, my office-mate Karl is a guy that I really enjoy talking to, but he seems to have a preternatural knack for engaging me in conversation when I'm almost at the point of leaving to go somewhere. It's before I start packing to go. It's just when I'm thinking, "Hmmm, I should wrap things up soon." That's when he will bring up some interesting aspect of our job that, of course, I want to talk about.

Naturally, I lingered as long as I could to talk, but this meant that I was very nearly late to the gym. Fortunately, the person after me was late (as she frequently is), so I had some extra time with my trainer to make up for a bit. (Just as an aside: my knee is now doing much better these days!)

Back to the office, and just in time for a meeting with Todd, who is my boss's boss. Todd and I mostly spoke in higher-level, big-picture concepts instead of in details. This can be a good sign or a bad sign. On one hand, some technical managers tend to be so high in the sky that they can't see what the guys in the trenches are doing. On the other hand, sometimes it's a sign that the manager can see both the forest and the trees, and not get too distracted by either. I get the feeling that Todd is in the latter category.

Some of the more significant points I took away from that meeting are:

  1. Engineers are expected to manage themselves. Google puts a lot of smart people in the vicinity of interesting problems, and expects them to sort out the way for them to work on it. Google has a flat structure; when managers generally have 40 or 50 direct reports, there's no room for micromanagement.
  2. As a corollary to 1, you are expected to figure out a style of work that suits you personally. This includes time management, documentation, work/life balance, etc. (This last issue— work/life balance— was a concern of mine when I was deciding whether or not to take the job at Google. Todd said that we shouldn't let it become a problem; defend my life-space.)
  3. Code talks. It's easy to make guesses in the dark and come up with ideas about ways to do things, but until there's some ones and zeros, it's not going to catch a lot of attention. Come up with ideas, and then prototype them. That's when you can start getting some eyeballs.
  4. Combining 1 and 3 leads us to realize that the general way things happen is, if you see a problem, solve it. Initiative is highly valued. You have the extensive Google codebase at your disposal, so many problems can be solved by the engineer who sees them.

We talked a little more on the way back to my office. When we arrived, he noticed Metamagical Themas sitting on my desk, and Karl, Todd and I talked a little bit about Hofstadter. Not only was Todd able to recognize the book on sight, but it turns out that Karl knows considerably more about his work than I do.

I worked a little more, trying to get a few more items off of my checklist. I was going to a They Might Be Giants concert that evening, and wanted to get a bit of technical training in before then. Naturally (or rather preternaturally), as time to leave drew near, Karl started talking to me about some ideas he'd had. I talked with him as long as I could, but had to leave as soon as the conversation looked like it was at as much of a stopping point as it would find. (How's THAT for some 2am grammar? I eat prepositions for breakfast, buddy!) He seemed a bit disappointed, but I'm sure we'll have lots of conversations in the future.

Meanwhile, it's time for me to get to bed if I'm gonna be bright-eyed tomorrow, so I'll go ahead and post this.

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