Today, I spoke to Steven Levy, who is the author of In The Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. He is a senior writer at Wired, and was formerly senior editor and chief technology correspondent for Newsweek. In this interview, Steven reveals some secrets from one of the most prize companies in the world, Google.
What got you so interested in writing about Google for your new book?
I had been covering the company since its early days, and always felt it was important. In the Summer of 2007 I tagged along with a group of young Google managers as they literally went around the world to visit Google’s offices overseas. Spending 24/7 time with them for two weeks woke me up to how different Google looks from the inside– it made me see things from the point of view of people who are shaping our future. So I set out to write a whole book that told that story from the inside.
Can you give a few inside secrets that we might not know about Google?
The book is full of them–like the way Google secretly set up its data centers, how the search engine works, what’s in the ‘black box'” of its ad program and why the system requires hordes of statisticians and engineers. Also, no one has really written previously about the internal management structures whereby Googlers set measurable goals.
What aspects of Google have helped lead to its success?
Larry and Sergey grasped the key elements for success in the Internet era–speed and scale. Larry in particular realized that the Internet was a platform where ambitious reaches could be rewarded.
Do you think that Facebook will eventually overthrow Google or that they can both live in harmony?
It’s not a death match--both are great companies that can coexist–but Google is worried that Facebook will use its assets to compete in areas where Google now dominates. The best outcome would be competition that makes both firms work overtime to lure users–but if part of the competition means that people must choose one company only for their social activity, that’s bad for us.
How does Google go about selecting talent? How important is talent to their overall strategy?
Talent is essential to Google–it is very serious about wanting a company where everyone is off-the-charts smart. Google has very high standards for hiring, and begins by requiring data in the form of one’s SAT scores (IQ) and college grade point (achievement). If someone has unique accomplishments that helps. Engineers take coding auditions, and there are many interviews and data packets compiled by hiring councils.
Steven Levy is the author of In The Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. He is a senior writer at Wired, and was formerly senior editor and chief technology correspondent for Newsweek. He is the author of six previous books, including Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution, which was voted the best sci-tech nonfiction book of the last twenty years by readers of PC magazine, and Insanely Great, the definitive account of the Macintosh computer. A native of Philadelphia, Levy lives in New York City with his wife, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author Teresa Carpenter, and their son. His website is stevenlevy.com.