Three Big Names in the Industry

Here's a fairly interesting blog post about working at Microsoft, Google, and Yahoo. It talks about the author's experiences as an intern at all three companies.

If I had to guess about what college this guy is from, I would guess Carnegie Mellon University. Back when I was there, people had sort of an obsession with finding "free food." They bragged about it they way students at some other colleges would brag about getting drunk or about getting laid. I never quite understood this obsession, since food and drinks are easy to come by "on your own." But I see that the author spends a few paragraphs, and even has entries in a chart, describing the relative culinary merits of all three companies. Apparently Google is on top in this category.

Offering free food and drink is one of those soft benefits that a company can offer. These kinds of benefits are often cheaper than a straight pay raise, and more effective at raising morale.

It's interesting to note that Google has a culture of secrecy. "Everything at Google was confidential and there were always cameras watching," the author comments. This corroborates with what I've heard from other interns. How ironic that Google, a company whose stated mission is to "organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful," is quite resistant to making information about its own internal projects and policies accessible to the outside world. The computer industry is tough, though, and certain companies have used industrial espionage in the past. So perhaps it is just prudence on Google's part.

Still, I fear the security department of a company dedicated to indexing and processing information. They will have recourse to image processing applications for cameras; they can examine email with distributed text processing heuristics which can be run on the company's computer clusters. Surveillance is the Siamese twin of information processing-- they were joined at birth, and always will be.

On this topic, Apple also has a reputation for secrecy. I suppose this is mostly because they want to build up buzz about their new products, and carefully control the rumors coming out about them.

The Microsoft section is disappointingly low on detail. I'm not really surprised that Bill Gates wears regular, scuffed up shoes. Considering the haircut he wears, it almost goes without saying. And my haircut is just as bad, so there. Anyway, was this observation really worth the space the author devoted to it?

The post touches only a little bit on the fragmented, decentralized nature of Microsoft. Supposedly each group has somewhat of its own culture, and some independence from the core. It may be that this is the only practical way to run a software company as big as Microsoft. Or maybe Microsoft has become a jumbled set of ossifying bureacratic fiefdoms. Probably the truth is somewhere in the middle.

The company the author ended up staying at, though, was Yahoo. He mentions that he was disappointed at the layers of bureaucracy above him, but fond of the workplace atmosphere. He especially liked having his own cubicle, as opposed to the open plan workplace that is apparently popular at Google. Although I've never worked in an open plan office, I imagine that I would feel the same way. I'm not sure I'm overwhelmingly enthusiastic about Yahoo's long-term prospects, though.

Anyway, the article was an interesting look at the three companies, through the eyes of a young college graduate. There is no substitute for experience, but at least reading this stuff is interesting.


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