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Data Sheet—A Look Inside the Employee Rebellion at Google

Aaron Pressman

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More than 12 years ago I wrote a feature about the workplace culture at Google, which debuted that year at No. 1 on Fortune’s annual 100 Best Companies to Work For list. It was a whimsical piece that tried to pull back the curtain on the zany yet cush environment for the mostly young workforce. The headline and sub-headline from 2007 are deliciously worth pondering today: “Search and Enjoy: The people are brilliant. The perks are epic. But can Google’s founders build a culture that doesn’t depend on the stock price?”

Fortune’s Beth Kowitt has delivered a full-throated response to that generation-ago (by Silicon Valley standards) question: Not completely. Noting Google’s idealistic founding and early years, Kowitt added up the multiple recent clashes between Google and its own employees. Then she asks a question of her own: What happens when an empowered tech workforce rebels?

What makes this story so compelling is that Google absolutely delivered on a work environment that encouraged employee feedback, from weekly “TGIF” all-hands meetings to internal bulletin-board mechanisms. The problem hasn’t been so much empowering employees to speak out as what management does when they do. In many instances, management has done exactly what its workers have wanted, especially when they’ve pushed what the rest of the country would recognize as a left-of-center political agenda. (Examples: firing a self-identified conservative champion of men’s rights, discontinuing work on a Pentagon project, disbanding an A.I. ethics council because it included the Heritage Foundation president.) In other instances, Google has made its own activists feel less than welcome. (As I have pointed out before, I am a Google spouse.)

Credit Google with acknowledging its growing pains. “You can’t go through that kind of growth without the culture needing to evolve,” Jen Fitzpatrick, a Google senior vice-president, told Kowitt.

Google is in the middle of a journey that only a few companies ever travel. It begins by being a startlingly successful upstart, then a potential role model for other companies, and finally just another massive company trying to make a buck and facing questions from all sides.

As for Google’s culture not depending on its stock price, well, we still don’t know the answer to that.

Adam Lashinsky @adamlashinsky adam_lashinsky@fortune.com

  • NEWSWORTHY

    Scrapbooking. One of the happier tech IPO stories of 2019 took a turn for the worse on Thursday. Pinterest priced its shares at $19 last month and they had since risen to almost $31. But while revenue rose a healthy 54% to $202 million in the first quarter, the company’s adjusted net loss per share ballooned to 32 cents, triple what Wall Street expected. In premarket action on Friday, Pinterest shares are trading under $26, down 17%. In future IPO news, food delivery service DoorDash is raising more private backing, seeking a value of as much as $12 billion, while Amazon is investing $575 million in British food deliverer Deliveroo.

    Seeing the way forward. Among more established tech companies on Wall Street, Nvidia narrowly beat analyst forecasts in a very down quarter. The gaming chip giant said revenue plunged 31% to $2.2 billion while adjusted earnings per share of 88 cents were down 57%. Nvidia’s stock price, up 20% so far this year, was down 1% in premarket trading on Friday.

    Multiplying FLOPS. Two storied names from the early days of computing history are combining. Hewlett Packard Enterprise on Friday said it was buying Cray, maker of the eponymous supercomputers, for $1.3 billion.

    Buddy buddy. They’re fierce rivals in the world of video gaming boxes, but Sony and Microsoft said Thursday they would be teaming up on cloud computing, even for gaming. The pair will “explore joint development” of the cloud infrastructure needed for streaming services for gaming and other kinds of content.

    Fond of counting troubles. CNBC talked to some former talent recruiters for Facebook who said the company has seen a big drop in job candidates saying “yes” since the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Facebook’s acceptance rate from top universities, including Harvard and Stanford, declined from an average of 85% in 2017-2018 to 35% to 55% in December, CNBC reported. A Facebook spokesman said: “These numbers are totally wrong.”

    I can’t see you now. All four major wireless carriers–Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile–say they have stopped sharing customer location data with the third party services that supplied bounty hunters (and reporters) with the information, according to letters the carriers wrote to Federal Communications Commission commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel.

  • FOR YOUR WEEKEND READING PLEASURE

    A few longer reads that I came across this week that may be appealing for your weekend reading pleasure:

    WeWork Wants to Become Its Own Landlord With Latest Spending Spree (Bloomberg Businessweek)
    The cash-burning startup is turning to financial gymnastics to keep expanding.

    I turned my interview task for Google into a startup (UX Collective)
    When I interviewed at Google for the role of Visual Designer this was no exception. After two rounds of interviews later I was slapped with the infamous task.

    This Venture Capital Fund Wants to Get You Pregnant (Institutional Investor)
    “The storage of frozen eggs, sperm, and embryos has always been a poorly executed afterthought that we, for a long time, should have been doing better,” says Dr. David Sable, formerly a practicing reproductive endocrinologist and now manager of a pair of venture capital funds.

    Inside the Pampered and Personalized World of DC’s VIP Diners (Washingtonian)
    The big restaurant lie: Everyone is treated the same.

  • FOOD FOR THOUGHT

    While you’re keeping track of the battle over self-driving cars and the battle over car ride hailing apps, don’t overlook the battle over car sharing apps. Turo is what we in the news business call “the Airbnb of cars.” It’s a platform that lets people rent out their own cars to strangers–often quite profitably. But now the rental car industry is fighting back and Laura Bliss has a deep dive into the conflagration in a piece for CityLab. As usual, it’s all about the money. Oh, and the taxes on the money:

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  • IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

    The Number of Men Who Are Uncomfortable Mentoring Women Is Growing By Sheryl Sandberg and Marc Pritchard

    For Global Accessibility Awareness Day, 5 iPhone Tricks Everyone Should Use By Lisa Marie Segarra

    How a Cyber Crime Ring Stole $100 Million From Unsuspecting Companies By Don Reisinger

    A New Google Antitrust Probe Could Spell Trouble for Its Auto Domination Plans By David Meyer

    Why Investors Should Care More About the Fortune 500 Than the S&P 500 By Matt Heimer

    3 Subtle Ways China Is Beating Trump At His Own Trade War By Erik Sherman

  • BEFORE YOU GO

    If you are interested in great visuals or how people work, The New York Times has a fabulous series called “The Room Where it Happens.” The photo essays explore a variety of interesting and important places, from Vogue editor Anna Wintour’s office at 1 World Trade Center to the United Nation’s highly secure Security Council consultations room to Ikea’s design lab and several more. It’s quite the distracting sneak peek.

    This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman. Find past issues, and sign up for other Fortune newsletters.