Working over email & IM, Geography & Google

by Steve Mallett

In this age of email, IM, Video Chat, VoIP, forums, wiki, weblogs and such, why does Google need an Open Source Programs Manager within bus-riding distance of their offices? Do others still work like it's the 80s?

I've bemoaned this to myself on several occasions, but this instance really got under my skin this morning: Google, the 'internet/web' people, want an Open Source Programs Manager according to craigslist.

This position will involve travel but can be satisfied by candidates located in New York, Kirkland, Wa., Santa Monica or Mountain View, Ca.


Seriously? The entire job takes place over the interwebs except for the boring part of talking to legal/brass. Why would you only want someone who's capable of the bottom 20% of the work?

Seriously look at these requirements:

* BS in Computer Science, or equivalent experience.

* A proven track record opening software in large organizations.

* A thorough understanding of open source/free software licensing issues.

* Technical speaking experience.

* Strong interpersonal communication skills.

* Strong project management skills.

* Experience working with the technology press and online journalists/bloggers.

* Experience with Sourceforge, Tigris and Savannah and able to properly leverage them.


Geography is not that big a deal with this job and yet you've probably eliminated 90% of the best candidates. Including me. And that's what really cheeses me off. Your best candidates "leverage" the internet.. they're not slaves to geography.

How can Google of all companies not understand working collaboratively over the internet?

I live in a little slice of heaven and have considered moving a couple of times, but get pulled back by the idea of raising my kids in a nice little town, being twenty minutes from some of the warmest beaches in the world (in the summer that is), and generally resisting the idea that companies really want someone close rather than someone passionate and good at what they do.

Wouldn't you rather hire that kind of person over someone who can catch the bus to work?

5 Comments

jwenting
2005-01-27 07:08:54
personal contact counts
Believe it or not but many people still value being able to meet face to face.


I'd be extremely wary of someone in his ivory tower telling me what software to use as a development group unless I could tell that person in his face his choices make no sense if needed.
I've encountered too many situations in which people in power in an organisation just hand down directives from some anonymous head office on the other side of town/country/world with no idea at all what's happening as a result of those decisions and no interest in finding out.


One of the strengths of Google as a company or so I've been told are the short lines between the people inside the company.
Working together in one building is a big part of that, being told what to do by some anonymous entity on the end of an IM application or an email address (who is indeed sitting on the beach while you're in the office) is counter to that.


If Google knows the strenghts of the internet, they also know the weaknesses and the anonymisation of people is a very big weakness indeed.
It may be fine for a callcenter person, a programmer in India, or even an outside consultant on a temporary assignment, but for people in positions of responsibility it's just not what you want.

spaceman
2005-01-27 07:23:56
personal contact counts
"Believe it or not but many people still value being able to meet face to face." So do I, but doing this for everything is hardly a requirement for ongoing work. And, you've heard of iChat and it's ilk?


"One of the strengths of Google as a company or so I've been told are the short lines between the people inside the company."


Face to face doesn't solve this problem at all. A lot of cubicle people email or IM each other all the time.


"Working together in one building is a big part of that, being told what to do by some anonymous entity on the end of an IM application or an email address (who is indeed sitting on the beach while you're in the office) is counter to that."


This sounds like a company personality problem.


"If Google knows the strenghts of the internet, they also know the weaknesses and the anonymisation of people is a very big weakness indeed." I don't buy this at all. People who do good work are never anonymous.


"for people in positions of responsibility it's just not what you want." People with responsibility get the work done or they don't. It doesn't matter where they are unless they need to hover over people. If they do then this isn't for that type of position, but that's not the same as collaborating.

tranebc
2005-01-27 07:31:01
manager
I think that's the term within the description of the job that you're missing. In order to effectively Manage people, you need to be talking to them and meeting with them face to face on a daily basis. If this were a job for an "Open Source Programmer" I would completely agree with you, but it's for a Manager, which is different.
spaceman
2005-01-27 07:40:56
manager
How so, really?


What is accomplished with face to face (on day by day things) that isn't with IM etc etc? I think we've become accustomed to thinking we need face to face all the time where it really isn't necessary.


I'm not belittling face to face. It has its place. But, as an everyday requirement there's just no reason unless you feel you need to hover people and then its more likely that you -personally- feel the need.

xyzzy-xyzzy
2005-01-27 14:00:28
Management is more than that
Management is more than just giving people assignments. It can include coaching, career help, training, etc., much of which is far more effectively done face-to-face than at a distance.


I worked for a company where all the engineers were offsite. In general, this worked well. However, there were some things it wasn't good for -- our initial project brainstorming meetings, for example, or intense debugging sessions before a release.


I wouldn't be so quick to discount the anonymousness factor. People do tend to treat people differently over email than face-to-face, a factor that can have a large affect on the manager-employee relationship.


"Being on the internet" isn't a solution for a lot of things. Even the outsourcers will eventually realize this, I think. Having a company in India (or wherever) that you contract with to do a project can work. Having a team in India with a manager in San Jose will not work. It is simply much more difficult to do day-to-day management with a team that is not physically co-located. Chatting, phone calls, video streams, email, and faxes are not always adequate substitutes, and wasting half-a-day (or more), plus the costs, to fly the manager in to solve a problem is not something every company wants to do, especially in this economy.


I loved telecommuting. It was great when I did it. I'd do it again. But it is not good for everything, and this job may be an example.