Check out this video. No, go on, watch it. The rest of this won't make much sense until you do.
Now that you've seen it, take a moment, do the "WOW" thing in your head, imagine how cool it would be to work there, all of it. Go on, I know you want to, I did too when I first saw it. Go ahead, take a moment; you'll be distracted until you do, and you'll miss the rest of the point of this blog entry, and then I'll be sad. Go on, now. Here, I'll do it with you, even.
Mmmmmm. Slide to lunch. Ahhhh. Massage chair in front of the fish tank. Wow, just think of how cool it must be to work at Google. I mean, they work hard and all, but still... now there's a company that knows how to take care of its engineers, right?
OK, daydreaming done? Let's think about this for a moment.
First, how can anybody get anything done with all that noise surrounding them? Oh, I don't mean actual audio noise, I know they've created quiet zones and all that, I mean the myriad distractions that float around that office building. I'll be honest--I find myself getting work done better in an environment without that additional stimulus and excitement (legacy of my ADD, I'm sure). Knowing that I could just nip on over to the video game room to spend some "thinking time" in front of an all-you-can-play Galaga machine would drive me batty.
Maybe that's just me, and others are just begging to be given the chance to prove me wrong, and if that's the case, then by all means, please feel free. But I've heard this same experience from lots of people doing the work-at-home thing, and I don't think the anecdotal evidence here is widely skewed. Sometimes you want work to be... just work. Vanilla, boring, and predictable.
Don't get me wrong--I don't exactly look forward to my next engagement that plops me down in the middle of the cube farm--there's a continuum here, and Google is clearly far on the opposite end of that spectrum from the Dilbert-esque cubicle prairie as anyone can get. But had I my personal preference here, it would be a desk, fairly plain, comfortable, yet focused more on the functional than the "fun".
But second, there's a deeper concern that I have, one which I worry a lot more about than just peoples' preference in work space.
When's the last time you saw this kind of extravagance being lavished on developers? For me, it was at a number of different Silicon Valley firms during the dot-com boom of the late 90's... and all of those firms are dessicated remains of what they once were, or else dried up completely into dust and have long since blown away with the coastal breeze. This was classic startup behavior: drop a ton of money
I'll call it: If Google sees nothing wrong with this kind of extravagance in setting up an office, then they have just done their first evil.
Pause for a moment to think about the costs involved in setting up that office. I submit to you, dear reader, that Google is being financially irresponsible with that office, all nice perks aside. Google's money machine isn't going to last forever--nobody's ever does--and the company (desperately, IMHO) needs to find something else to prove to Wall Street and Developer Street that they're still a company that knows how to write cool software and make money. (Plenty of companies write cool software, and close their doors a few years later, and plenty of companies know how to make money, but having a company who can do both is a real rarity.)
Look at Google's habits right now: they're pouring money out left and right in an effort to maintain or improve the Google "image"; tons of giveaways at conferences, tons of offices all across the world, incredible office spaces like the one in the video, and a ton of projects created by Google engineers just because said engineers think it's cool. While that's a developer's dream, it doesn't pay the rent. I want to work for a company that offers me a creative, productive work environment, true, but more than that, I want to work for a company that knows how to make sure my checks still cash. (Yes, I remember the late 90's well, and the collapse that followed.)
I'm worried about Google--they appear to be on a dangerous arc, spending in what would seem to be far greater excess of what they're taking in, and that's not even considering some of the companies they would be well-advised to consider buying in order to flush out more of their corporate profile (which is its own interesting discussion, one for a later day). What is Google's principal source of income right now? Near as I can tell, it's AdWords, and I just can't believe that the AdWords gravy train will run any longer than...
... well, than the DOS gravy train. Granted, that train ran for a long time, but eventually it ran out, and the company had to find alternative sources of income. Microsoft did, and now it's Google's turn to prove they can put money back into their corporate coffers.
The parallels between Google and Microsoft are staggering, IMHO.