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Saturday, March 3, 2012

From powerhouse to meh

Not too long ago, there was this company which made a lot of useful things. They had a big, beautiful campus on the west coast, and they took care of their employees. The products they made were solid and used by others to get things done quickly and efficiently.

This company was seen as quite the place to work. Anyone who got in there must have either been super smart, super lucky, or both. There were tales of the mind-bending interview questions they used to ask. Everyone learned about why manhole covers were round just in case they ever found themselves in that situation.

They even had the equivalent of a 7-11 in all of their buildings. You could go there to grab a Coke or a snack bag and decompress before heading back to work. This was all set up to reduce the amount of external noise one encountered so that everyone might focus on their work.

Then, something changed. The general reception of the company was no longer generally positive. Sure, there were those who saw them as doing no wrong, but the core techie audience started dropping away. Their latest decisions and actions did not sit well with this group, and they stopped recommending them.

Quality dropped. Their products just weren't as solid as they had been before. Scary new issues started to appear, and it was apparent that whatever driving force had been behind the company had now shifted, and they were headed in another direction. That direction no longer yielded the sort of things which made these users happy.

This company was taken to court by various governments for doing bad things. Sometimes, they even lost those court cases and had restrictions imposed on them for being bad. This behavior inspired other companies to "not be like them". It was simple enough: you could just ask yourself if this company would do what you were thinking of doing, and if they would, don't do it.

The company is still around, but they're largely harmless now. There are still a couple of markets where they wield some force, but it's nothing compared to the days when they had a death grip on the world.

Also, it's no longer an accomplishment to say you got hired there. It's just another place to work now. Just getting in the door means nothing in particular.

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So... which company am I talking about?

You'd think I was talking about Google based on my own experiences and prior writing. Actually, I was describing Microsoft. Think back to the shift which occurred around the time of Windows 95 and subsequent decade. Getting a job there was thought to be a big deal.

Now here's the thing you're going to be pondering for a while: if you thought it was Google, that means everything I described fits them, including the parts where it went bad. Just think about what that means: that you thought a description of Microsoft in the '90s applies to Google today.

Interesting, isn't it?