Ex-Google engineer slams company as 'arrogant' and lacking innovation

A former senior researcher at Google has slammed the company, saying it's no longer innovative and merely chases trends.

Senior staff software engineer Steve Yegge left Google after a career spanning over 10 years, stating in a lengthy blog post that he left because "[Google] can no longer innovate. They've pretty much lost that ability".

Yegge blamed this loss of innovation on four factors. He said that as the company has grown, it has become focused on protecting its existing assets, which has made it conservative and risk-averse.

Politics, he said, was another limiting factor. As one of the largest and most influential tech companies on the face of the planet, Google is heavily involved in political discussions at the highest levels of government it spent $18 million on political lobbying in 2017. While Yegge noted this is "sort of inevitable" with a company of Google's size and "not necessarily bad", he also pointed out that it has slowed the company down and introduced new problems.

Yegge also slammed Google's attitude as "arrogant", stating that a sense of corporate invincibility within the company has led to its strategy becoming a mess. He implied that the business has lost touch with customer and that its strategic decision-making has become poor.

"Their attempts at innovation have been confusing and mostly unsuccessful for close to a decade," he said. "Googlers know this is happening and are as frustrated by it as you are, but their leadership is failing them."

However, the biggest and most egregious error that Google has made, in Yegge's eyes, is becoming "100% competitor-focused rather than customer focused". Google's internal incentive structure, he claims, doesn't support a customer-focused attitude, so staff are too busy to make it a priority.

Instead, Yegge says that the company rewards the successful launch of new features and products, and that in order to achieve this, Google simply copies what its rivals are doing.

"You can look at Google's entire portfolio of launches over the past decade, and trace nearly all of them to copying a competitor: Google+ (Facebook), Google Cloud (AWS), Google Home (Amazon Echo), Allo (WhatsApp), Android Instant Apps (Facebook, WeChat), Google Assistant (Apple/Siri), and on and on and on," he said.

"They are stuck in me-too mode and have been for years. They simply don't have innovation in their DNA any more. And it's because their eyes are fixed on their competitors, not their customers."

While Yegge praised certain products and initiatives, such as Cloud Spanner, BigQuery, TensorFlow and Waymo as "generational innovations", he blasted the rest of its output, saying that the company's successes "do not excuse nor justify the parade of failed me-too consumer products that Google has been launching of late".

The changes in the company's attitude over Yegge's time at Google, he says, has driven him to take a job at Grab, an Uber competitor based in Southeast Asia.

"In short, Google just isn't a very inspiring place to work anymore. I love being fired up by my work, but Google had gradually beaten it out of me."

IT Pro contacted Google for a response to Yegge's claims, but hadn't received a response at the time of publication.

Adam Shepherd

Adam Shepherd has been a technology journalist since 2015, covering everything from cloud storage and security, to smartphones and servers. Over the course of his career, he’s seen the spread of 5G, the growing ubiquity of wireless devices, and the start of the connected revolution. He’s also been to more trade shows and technology conferences than he cares to count.

Adam is an avid follower of the latest hardware innovations, and he is never happier than when tinkering with complex network configurations, or exploring a new Linux distro. He was also previously a co-host on the ITPro Podcast, where he was often found ranting about his love of strange gadgets, his disdain for Windows Mobile, and everything in between.

You can find Adam tweeting about enterprise technology (or more often bad jokes) @AdamShepherUK.