"One of the things that surprised me about Google was it had no middle managers," said Randy Katz, a professor of computer science at the University of California, Berkeley. Katz took a sabbatical at the Internet search giant in 2006. Here are excerpts from Katz' recollection as narrated to EETimes reporter Rick Merritt:
"I was working for [Senior Vice President of Engineering] Bill Coughran, and I reported directly to him along with more than 160 people. That's a little insane, but they are able to do it because they make such extensive use of electronic messaging.
"At the end of every week, every employee was required to send a summary of their activity for the period. As of 2006, Sergey Brin and Larry Page were supposedly reviewing all these, which is also kind of nuts. But that was the way to stay in contact with employees and be informed about what people were doing and get progress reports on projects. Even to this day, the founders are very actively involved in the technical direction of the company.
"The physical layout of the company was also interesting. It's an open cube environment. The vice presidents and engineers share these cubes. It was good because you could see a lot of collaboration taking place. No one has a private office except for Eric Schmidt, who has a very tiny one. Even Larry and Sergey share an office, though it is a very big office.
"That has influenced the way we organized our own research [at Berkeley]. We remodeled some lab space so faculty and graduate students are in the same space with the same kind of low cubicle structure they have at Google. Now I see a lot of collaboration and acceleration of our research by having my office being just a cube like anyone else's, and being right in the middle of where students are working on research projects."
Other Berkeley labs have copied the same system, including a new parallel programming lab run by computer science veteran David Patterson. "The theory is if you want innovation, you need unplanned spontaneous meetings and if everyone stays home [telecommuting] that stops happening," Patterson said.
Katz also learned a thing or two about software development in his time at Google. "Almost no one developed software from scratch. The first thing they did was search the code base. You can imagine for a company like Google there's a huge number of lines of [existing] code. They actually have pretty good tools to search the code base to find building blocks for a new programming project.
"I came away with a feeling that our students need to have better skills reading and adapting code than spending all their time developing code from scratch. A lot of our best students are already connected with the open source community, so our best students are doing this sort of thing." -- Rick Merritt