Thursday, December 28, 2006

I Knew It

Last year I was obsessed with artificial intelligence, especially Bayesian techniques. I was unemployed, although, I spend so much time deliberately unemployed studying things I want to study that calling myself unemployed is kind of a disservice to anybody unemployed who actually wants a job -- I mean techincally I'm unemployed now -- anyway, long story short, I was spending pretty much all day every day reading, building toy robots, and and googling Bayesian networks, Lisp, and other stuff I was curious about.

I ended up posting (and then taking down) some extremely aggravated rants against Google, because if you want to live a life free from Google ads for Google jobs, let me tell you, the way to live life free of that particular annoyance is not to google Lisp or Bayesian networks. Initially it wasn't even an annoyance, but after a while, it got very irritating -- the more so because the taglines were so marketing-y and so not cool at all. Reading between the lines, I had to wonder if their HR departmant was desperate and willing to hire anybody just to meet their numbers.

(I can prove for a fact that they weren't, because they didn't hire me, although, in my defense, I sent them a resume which was practically drawn in crayon -- it had cutesy little captions as annoying as Google's campus -- and came in an e-mail explaining that I didn't actually want to work for them, I was just submitting to their brainwashing. This was not exactly my slickest sales pitch ever.)

Anyway, also, ever since I got stranded in the job market when nobody wanted to hire Perl wizards any more, I've done periodic research on which languages return the most job results on various job sites. (This isn't necessarily the most valuable metric, but it's worth being aware of.) At that particular time, you couldn't google Python on many of those sites without seeing numerous ads which came from cheesy headhunters but were obviously for contracts at Google. You'd see things like "a leader in the search space located in Mountain View near Sandshore Amphitheatre!" every day. Actually I may be getting my landmarks wrong, I don't live in the Bay any more, but you get the idea -- that kind of specificity, that kind of subtlety, for a Python contract lasting six months to a year. (Which, I imagine, is probably a pretty useful way for a manager to pick up a long-term hire if they want to circumvent a picky, rigorous, and therefore time-consuming hiring process.)

It kind of irritated me, the idea that this company once famous for its absurdly high standards was now running ads with the tagline "we can't hire smart people fast enough!" It should be pretty obvious what the choices you face in that situation are: you either slow down, or start hiring idiots. If you have two goals, and you can only reach one, you will have to choose one goal or the other. And after I went to Google for a Python users' group meeting, I developed a pretty cynical suspicion about the choice they'd made. After all, they had Legos decorating the area with the users' group meeting -- but the Legos were Harry Potter Legos, built according to the instructions. It's true, geeks like Legos, but no self-respecting geek buys Legos to follow the instructions. Maybe with Mindstorms kits, or Technics kits, but not with Harry Potter kits. Most Lego geeks wouldn't bother with a Harry Potter kit in the first place. I have the overwhelming suspicion that somebody told somebody else, "Geeks like Legos, take the gold card and go to Toys R Us!" without ever taking the time to wonder which Legos geeks like, or why.

Anyway, there's virtually no blessing more mixed than having a cynical attitude vindicated, but my cynicism of last year appears to be pretty vindicated:

[Google] employees seem a little less excited about things than the last time I was there. Nobody says "We're on a mission to change the world!" anymore. Now they say, "Yeah, I'm just going to stick around here another six months until my options vest." and "I kind of want to transfer out of my group but I worry that all the other groups are worse."

Like I say, there's a real downside any time you get to say "I told you so." It's so much better to be wrong about cynical ideas, or to simply never see anything that makes you cynical in the first place. But I knew it, and although I've taken it down, at the time, I posted it. For what that's worth.

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