The standard you walk past

Given that Google gave Anthony Levandowski a quarter of a billion dollars and let him start his own very profitable companies to supply Google/Waymo with self-driving car components, I think it’s reasonable to think that under other circumstances Andy Rubin would have exited Google with a lot more than $90 million.
So my feelings about it are pretty complicated.
There’s nothing new about Google making huge payments to senior executives. As everyone knows, it’s senior executives who have all the ideas and do all the work, while the engineers who work in their orgs sit in their lavish offices and churn out code while being hand-fed delicious food when they’re not at the bowling alley. (Some Google offices may not have bowling alleys, or lavish offices.  Deliciousness of food may vary.) 
It’s only right that a senior executive be paid out 50x more than any normal employee will earn in their lifetime. I mean, they have to do the really hard work of being the sort of people other Google senior executives like to spend time with. That’s worth a lot.
The problem is less that they gave Rubin a huge payday - though that’s certainly part of the problem - than it is that there was plenty of knowledge in the organization about what Rubin was doing to some female employees. And those employees Just. Didn’t. Matter. They didn’t count. They were just discarded.
Corporations are inhuman machines. (That’s not a value judgment. It’s literally what they are.) The only way that a corporation exhibits any human virtues at all is through the interventions of the people who run it. For many years, one of the promises that Google has used to attract the smartest people to work for it is that it treats its people well. We’re all coming to learn how poorly it has actually been living up to its promise, which is to say, how poorly the people who run it have been countering a corporation’s innate tendency to grind people up and spit them out.
If I were an investor in Google - oh, wait, I am an investor, so hey, listen up! - I would be very concerned that the management at Google has been allowing the competitive advantages that catapulted the company to the forefront to erode. Worse yet, it allowed those advantages to erode while really hoping that nobody ever found out about it. (We would never have learned about this stuff from management; we had to read about it in the New York Times and the New Yorker.) 
They knew what they were doing was wrong, and that it would be bad for the company if anyone found out, and they did it anyway.
If you look at all the praise that Sundar Pichai and Ruth Porat (who, by the way, are not the ones responsible for Andy Rubin and Anthony Levandowski’s massive rewards; that all happend on Larry Page's watch) have been getting for the last couple of years, you can’t help but notice that the world, especially the financial world, keeps patting them on the back for all the things they’re doing to make Google work like more of an well-run - which is to say, inhuman - machine. And yeah, the stock price has gone up under their watch.
But Google wasn’t run for the praise of the financial world for the first twelve years of its existence, and in that time it went from nothing to being a global institution. Its stock price went up a lot during that time, too. (Complicating my feelings: Maybe Google has done so well because of things like Larry Page writing huge checks to people he likes to hang out with. Maybe Android wouldn’t have turned out so well if they had fired Rubin. On the other hand, maybe it would have turned out better if the women that Rubin abused had been able to thrive in their careers. At a certain point outcomes become incalculable and you have to rely on principles.)
When a company looks the other way while employees are being harassed and marginalized, when it systemically pays female employees less than male employees who do the same work[1], when it forces employees into binding arbitration so that complaints about their treatment always remain confidential, where they’re hard for other employees to learn about, when it’s convicted of colluding with other companies to drive down your wages, you start to think that the company’s interests are in strong opposition to the interests of its employees.
There’s nothing wrong with that, per se. That’s the deal at most companies.
But in Google’s case it calls a lot of things into question. It’s reasonable for a Google employee to ask things that employees at other companies ask, like, “Why should I do work that I’m not going to get rewarded for?” There is a lot of work that Googlers, especially engineers, do that they’re not rewarded for in any way. They do this work for the benefit of the company and for everyone else who works there. It even has a dumb name: Googleyness. What’s Google going to be like when nobody does that anymore? What is it going to be capable of becoming when nobody does that anymore?
What’s going to happen now that the reasons engineers prefer working at Google to working at Uber are melting away? I know plenty of engineers who’ve been at Google for years who are looking at what the company’s been doing in the last two years and thinking, you know, maybe I should be doing something else with my life. I just learned yesterday of someone who’s leaving because of what he thinks Google’s becoming, and my first thought was of all the things he’d helped me and my colleagues with that we’re now not going to have his help with anymore. How much institutional knowledge is the company going to lose if this trickle becomes a stream?
And then there are the customers. Customers used to love Google. A lot still do. But a lot of customers used to love Yahoo too, back in the day. If you’re a company that gives away free services on the Internet, an immense amount of influence and wealth can evaporate when people stop loving you.
All of that’s in play right now. If Google keeps bringing Steve Ballmer to a Satya Nadella fight, it’s not going to end well for the company.
I’ll say this much: Sundar really needs to watch this video before he writes another candy-assed email about how “we take this issue very seriously.”
[1] Google claims that they pay women and men equitably, but have so far failed to provide the Department of Labor with evidence that would prove it, arguing, essentially, that the dog keeps eating their homework.


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