Google’s Lessons For Managing Tech-Savvy Teams

by drjim on January 14, 2010

How Does Google Solve Common IT Manager Issues?

How Does Google Solve Common IT Manager Issues?

Sigh, if only we all could work for Google, right? If there is one company out there that seems to “get” IT, it would have to be Google. The stories that float around about how nice the Google campus is and all the free food and other perks sure make it seem like a Shangri-La. Hmm, but wait a minute, no matter how nice it seems, they’ve got to be dealing with the same IT Leader issues that we all are. Maybe it’s time to have a talk with their (former) CIO…

It’s All About Choice

One of the big issues that IT Leaders have to deal with on an almost constant basis is the issue of keeping our teams up and running. This comes down to making sure that they have the right laptops, the right operating systems, etc. If you are not careful, this can eat up a lot of your available time.

Over at Google, Douglas Merrill who was their CIO up until April of 2008 said that the model that they used for solving the individual system issue was freedom of choice: employees got to choose both their machine and their operating system. I’ll bet that pretty much eliminates any complaining!

You would think that this would make support from an IT perspective a lot more complicated / expensive. You’d be right, but Merrill said that it didn’t boost costs all that much in part because of Google’s extensive use of self-service. They maintain internal web sites where users can go to download and install any software that they need. They do this by themselves and it places no additional burden on the IT department.

What About Security?

I can almost hear what you are saying / thinking right now: man, that must cause all sorts of security nightmares. Any IT Leader that you talk with these days probably has one or more horror stories about a team member downloading (or clicking on) something that they shouldn’t have and causing a mess that took forever to clean up.

Merrill says that they look at things a bit differently at Google. Most companies try to secure their networks by locking down the endpoints: our laptops and our smart phones. He feels that this really doesn’t work very well — thus all of the problems that we still have. At Google they put the security into the infrastructure.

What this means is that, yes, they still have antivirus and antispyware applications running on everyone’s laptops, but they also have a lot of software running on their corporate mail servers and infrastructure. When taken together, they feel that they have solved the problem of just how you can secure your corporate network.

Just in case you need more convincing that they really take their security seriously, Merrill states that Google has over 150 engineers who work on nothing but security. They’ve worked very hard to make sure that security is not something that is handled by “some group” and instead is worked into everything that they do. One of the ways that they make this happen is to use automated tools to check each developer’s code before it gets put into production.

What All Of This Means For You

No, most of us are not going to end up working for Google (unless they take over the world, at which this turns into a different discussion). However, how they run their IT shop does hold some clues for the rest of us.

When it comes to resolving issues regarding the technical environment in which their team members work, they’ve turned over the decision making to each employee. We can’t necessarily set up the same system, but it does provide some clues. Where possible if we allow the team to decide things like what code editor to use or what template to use then all of a sudden it’s not “my” decision, but rather “our” decision which is always a lot easier for everyone to live with.

Security is another issue that just doesn’t seem to want to go away. Google’s approach is to do the baseline needed at the edge of the network and then focus on securing the core. This just seems like an overall good idea. Additionally, setting up ways to carefully check your team’s products to ensure that they are secure is always a good idea for any IT Leader.

It looks like Google is running a pretty tight ship in their IT department. Even if we can’t all work there, we can still learn from their example

Do you think that working at Google is all that it’s cracked up to be, or is it just like working in any other IT department?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

As the world economy tanked and countless people in all industries lost their jobs, the one thing that IT Leaders really didn’t have to worry about was having members of their team jump ship to go to work for other firms – there were no other jobs to be had. Well as the economy improves, this is going to change. Got a plan for keeping your team on board?

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