Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Google’s engineering focus still intact

The Wall Street Journal writes about Google’s recent focus on cost cutting. Yep, it’s not just you, me, the neighbors, AIG, JP Morgan, Citi, GM, Chrysler, Ford, etc, etc, etc, etc that are cutting back, Google is too. Big news? I don’t think so. It’s prudent.

In fact, I think Silicon Alley’s insistance that this signals the end of Google as an engineering Disneyland actually has it backwards. This move suggests the pragmatic engineers have their heads on right. Engineering is not just about creating wizbang gadgets. It’s about balancing what can be done with what’s needed and what’s practical. In tougher economic times it makes complete sense that good engineers will rebalance their efforts. That’s what makes for good engineering.

Does this not mean that management will be tighter at Google? Probably not. But that’s reasonable. Someone has to closely watch the financial ship at it sails through narrowing passages.

Now what I find extra interesting is this statement in the Journal article: “In recent weeks, Mr. Schmidt has held meetings with top executives to determine where to focus investment more narrowly. Top priorities include display ads, which use graphics and appear on Web pages; advertising on mobile phones; and the company’s online business software.”

In other words, in troubling times Google, like everyone else, is going to be looking towards the future–not just locking down what it has. It’s going to try to innovate and expand into growing markets. I’d argue, in fact, that it’s exactly during these tough times that companies like Google will want to be as creative as they can be. It wants to grow. It’s not going to be in maintenance mode. This is no time for that.

It’s at times like this that creative engineering is at its best. There are needs to reduce the overhead of existing products. There are the needs to grow into new markets rather than to simply repeat what’s been done in the past. There are needs to improve existing products so that customers, who are having to do more with less, can do so.

Yes, in my book, these are some of the most compelling times for engineers. Not the least.