Many people have criticized Google’s (GOOG) management for losing market share in China to local firm Baidu (BIDU)
after initially taking a commanding share in the browser market. In
surveys my firm conducted with Chinese youth in Shanghai between the
ages of 18 and 24, over 80% said that they used Baidu as their primary
search engine with Google a far second at just under 20%. Google’s poor
faring over the last year has caused a lot of analysts to lump them
with eBay (EBAY) and other internet failures in China, with many arguing that foreign internet companies can never do well here.
Could Google collapse in China much as eBay did, even after huge
initial leads over local Chinese players? Will Google’s stock price be
affected like eBay’s because it has been unable to capitalize on
China’s booming internet culture, in which nearly 140 million Chinese
connect to the net? What will happen with Rupert Murdoch’s Myspace (NWS) foray into China?
Most American critics have argued that Google has stalled in China
because they censored their Chinese language searches. In Davos, Google
Co-Founder Sergey Brin stated "On a business level, that decision to
censor... was a net negative."
However, in our surveys and interviews, censorship was not one of
the top 10 reasons that respondents said contributed to a preference
for Baidu over Google. In fact, most Chinese did not even realize that
there was a censorship difference between Google’s English and Chinese
versions. It seems that Google’s censorship decision has been more of a
hot topic for foreign critics than by Chinese end users themselves.
I am going to buck the trend of most analysts and argue that Google
has a huge opportunity in China to retake market share from Baidu if it
can get the right management team in place, delegate authority to them,
and localize services. I have also argued previously
that Baidu is spending too much time distracted with the international
markets than shoring up its domestic positions. If Google does not
delegate enough to a local management team and develop China-specific
services, and if Baidu continues to focus on the wrong revenue
generating opportunities, then Google will fail as eBay did in China.
Google’s Micromanagement and Oddball Hiring Practices
Google’s problems in China result more from their bizarre hiring
practices for a large MNC than in their censorship. In interviews we
recently conducted with senior Google managers in China, we found that
they believe that Google’s slow hiring practices (where Google
co-Founder Page personally has to write off on every job offer)
hindered Google China in bringing enough talent on board early on.
Without the team on the ground, Google floundered while Baidu was able
to keep up with fast-changing shifts in the marketplace. But the team
is starting to get settled – and it is a very bright and talented group
based on what I have found in discussions.
My first suggestion for Google – it is absurd a company Google’s
size to have every job offer be personally approved by such senior
management in the US. Google’s senior management needs to learn how to
delegate authority more. As Google expands in China, it will have to
continue to bring the right talent on board. It will not be able to do
so unless they change their hiring practices that are way too slow. I
know very talented people who either decided not to try to join Google
after initial interviews or refused to even go into the interview
process because of what they felt was a drawn out and absurd process.
Being able to recruit and retain top talent anywhere but especially
in China is one of the most important, if not the most important, items
an MNC needs to focus on in China.
One of the reason’s respondents to our surveys said they switched
from Google to Baidu was because there was a time around Baidu’s IPO
when Google suddenly became slow or difficult to connect to, while
Baidu never had those problems. This happened to me too and was quite
But in the aftermath of the Taiwan earthquake, where Google ran the
whole time, we have seen that Google is now one of the more stable
American portals. For my personal email, I have stopped using Yahoo (YHOO) and Hotmail (MSFT)
and switched to Gmail, not because it is a more powerful system (which
it is) but simply because the access speeds are much faster. Half the
time I still cannot get onto Hotmail and Yahoo goes in and out.
I am not sure how these portals structure their servers and the
such, but it seems that Google has figured out the hardware structure
necessary to be able to compete from a speed level with Chinese portals
like a Sina (SINA) or Sohu (SOHU).
The main thing we learned through our surveys is that the service and product offerings are paramount to Chinese internet users.
20% of survey respondents said that they used Baidu because of the
MP3 search function and other stickiness factors – such as virtual
currency – that keep people coming to the portal. While Google has some
awesome services for the English speaking market, their Chinese
services pale in comparison to Baidu’s. This is something that Google
needs to remedy and which Yahoo did by teaming up with Alibaba where
the management team under Jack Ma is close to the consumers.
Foreign internet companies need to understand that China’s nearly 140 million internet users who actively engage in e-commerce are in itself a total market.
Internet companies need to develop services, products and processes
that target Chinese netizens directly rather than just bring what
worked in the US to China. The market is too big here to consider China
an auxiliary market as smaller countries are. New systems need to be
put in place to compete with the top Chinese internet firms. Although
they have no ADRs, for instance, I believe QQ is hands down one of the
best run Chinese firms.
Many critics have said that Google has failed in China. I agree with
this but not for the reasons that most critics highlight – censorship.
While that is a sexy topic amongst many Americans, Google has failed
for much more prosaic reasons. They should learn from eBay’s failure or
Yahoo’s experience where too little management control was ceded to the
team on the ground.
If Google can change some of its outdated practices, it will do very
well in China and expect its stock to continue to rise. If it does not
and if Baidu can focus better, then Baidu just might give Google a run
for its money.
Tags: google |
Posted by Admin
11/23/2008 4:18 AM |
Google recently hitched a ride up to space with the GeoEye-1, the new imagery satellite built by the company GeoEye.
Today, the company sent us a picture (above) that the new satellite
snapped of the Google’s Googleplex headquarters in Mountain View, Calif.
While you may look at the Google Maps view of the Googleplex
and think this image isn’t much better, I’m told that it’s because what
you see on Google Maps is a combination ariel imagery with satellite
imagery. This image is all satellite — as in hundred of miles up in the
air — as in, in space.
From that perspective, this looks really good. The picture is a 50
cm image, which is the maximum resolution Google is allowed to use,
because a certain large entity called the U.S. government is also using
the GeoEye-1 for national security purproses.
This a follow-up to my previous post
about my interview process with Google. Once a post gets as long as
that one did, I’m sure to forget to say some things. Rather than
updating that post, I thought I had enough new to say to warrant a new
First is the picture I got of their development process. There are plenty of other places
on the Internet about their development process, so I won’t go into
detail about what they told me–it pretty much matches up with the
available information. It really sounds like they try to match the
amount of process required to the specific project at hand. Projects
with a huge public impact have lots of process (Google’s front page,
indexing, etc.), while those that are newer and much lower impact
(stuff in the Labs section, and
even graduates of the Labs) have a much more flexible, agile process,
designed to get improvements out the door very quickly. I like that–no
mandatory bureaucracy where it doesn’t make sense.
process, however, it seems that they are very intent on giving
developers an environment designed to help them succeed. From what I
understood, the company actively tries to remove stupid barriers to
productivity (needless paperwork, poor IT, bad workstations) and give
you whatever you need to do your job how you think best. Obviously,
there are rules and standards, but it just sounded more
flexible. It really sounded like an ideal development environment:
Obstacles removed, needs granted. Now, how much of that is the official
“show” they put on for all interviews, who knows, but Google is
obviously doing something right.
Bottom-line is that Google is a
company of engineers for engineers. They’re the ones in charge of what
the company does. That is a very nice place to be if you love coding.
I should mention that the Google Boston office is MUCH smaller than
their Mountain View headquarters. The way things are done, while it
will still be “Googly”, will most likely have a different feel and pace
than at headquarters. I had read many reports on the web about how
people worked late hours, on weekends, and basically sacrificed their
lives for the company. I did NOT get that impression in Boston. They
were definitely smart and very hard working, but it sounded more like
the company was flexible and if you got your work done, who cares?
(That’s the way things ought to be done for sufficiently self-motivated
employees). I did ask about inordinate over-time (mistake on my part?)
and work-life balance and I came away with a satisfactory impression.
Whether this means Boston is special, or the accounts I read on the
Internet were not representative, I don’t know. Probably a lot of the
latter, for sure.
I also wanted to address my final link in my
last post. I know it can be a little disappointing to read that kind of
post and realize it’s not talking about you, because you’re
interviewing for jobs. I wouldn’t take it too literally.
Maybe my link text is a little black and white. I think the principle
is definitely valid, though. The better you are, the more freedom you
have to choose where you work and what you work on and the less chance
your going to fall into a company’s hiring process. It’s really more
about statistics from a company’s point of view of finding the best,
not necessarily for individuals.
Hopefully, that’s all I have to
say on the subject, but if you have questions, just leave them in the
comments and I’ll try to answer them!
A few months ago I received an e-mail from a recruiter at Google
asking for an opportunity to talk to me about available development
positions. Needless to say, I was pretty excited. I’m fairly happy in
my current job, but–it’s GOOGLE. You don’t say no to an interview
opportunity at Google.
I’m writing this account in order to
contribute to the meager resources available on the Internet about the
Google interview experience. I signed an NDA, so I’m not going to say
what the specific questions were, but I think I can give a pretty good
idea of my experience. I apologize right now for the length.
traded a few e-mails with a recruiter in Mountain View. I had a phone
conversation with him, wherein he asked me general questions about my
skills, desired work locations (giving me a choice of Santa Monica,
Mountain View, and Boston). I have no desire to live in California, so
I chose Boston. I was then passed to another recruiter, who setup a
phone interview with an engineer in Mountain View. There was a false
start, when they couldn’t do the interview at the original time, so we
The phone interview went very quickly. He was very
nice and asked about my specific talents, things I enjoy doing, and
projects I’d worked on–especially those I listed on my resume.
He asked about the ray tracer I wrote in college, since he had an
interest in that. He also asked some general questions about the stuff
I do for work. Then he got into the technical question. It was an
interesting problem, and I asked follow-up questions, talked out loud,
wrote things down in front of me (and told him what I was writing and
why). I immediately thought of the naive solution–always a good place
to start. He was interested in the asymptotic complexity. I knew there
were better ways of doing it, so I started thinking of optimizations to
the algorithm, trying to come up with ways of caching information,
reusing previously-computed values, etc. He gave me some gentle
prodding, and I think I understood immediately where he was going. I
answered the question fairly well, I though.
And that was
it–just a single question. I was surprised. The entire thing lasted
less than 30 minutes. I was almost disappointed, and thought–”well,
that’s that–I won’t hear back.” I really wasn’t expecting any follow-up.
next week, I got an e-mail from my recruiter who said I had impressed
and was going to get the opportunity for an in-person interview in
Boston! They hooked me up to a travel coordinator, as well as the
recruiter in Boston.
Very exciting. I had a convenient time to
go, so I set that up, took time off from work and went up to Boston,
staying in the Cambridge Marriott. Very nice hotel. 40″ flat screen TV
in the room ( which I never turned on). All expenses paid for, of
I did have to pay for hotel and food up front, and save the receipts.
(And yes, I promptly received a reimbursement check from them a few
weeks after I sent them in.)
I arrived on Monday afternoon,
figured out Logan International (a very confusing airport, I thought),
and got myself to Cambridge, in the heart of MIT, an hour or so later.
I checked in, then went walking. I found the building Google is in on
the very next block from the hotel. They have a floor in a building
that MIT leases to startups, tech incubators, and the like. There are
plenty of news articles about the Google Boston office–just…you know, Google for them.
I walked past the ultimate geek bookstore–
Discount tech books. COOL. I would definitely have to stop there later.
Then I got some cheap, awful Chinese food at the food court
under the hotel. Why? When I could go out on Google’s dime? I think I
was just tired and wanted to get back to the hotel soon and start
I ate dinner in the room, took pictures of the wonderful view of the Boston skyline.
What did I study? I brought two books with me: Robert Sedgewick’s Algorithms in C++,
and a C++ reference manual. I went over advanced C++ topics, STL,
simple sorting and searching algorithms, properties of graphs, big-O,
and anything else that popped into my head.
By far the most
valuable thing I did was write out algorithms before-hand. I picked
something and wrote it out by hand in a notebook. It was hard going at
first, but I knew it was the best thing I could do to prepare. I did
selection and insertion sort in both array and list form. I did string
reversal, bit reversal, bit counting, and binary search. All by hand,
without looking in a book at all. As well you might know those simple
algorithms, it’s harder than it sounds.
I went to bed relatively
early–9:30, and woke up the next morning at about 6. I went to
breakfast in the hotel restaurant, got a rather large meal, and then
headed to my room to study more. I wrote more algorithms and redid some
I had done the previous night.
Oh, I also wrote down in my
notebook (beginning on the plane ride up) questions for Google, as well
as answers to questions they could ask me (standard interview
fare–projects, favorite project, languages, strengths, passions,
getting along with people).
My interview was scheduled for 10
am–I checked out at 9:30 and left with my bag (I had everything in a
single bag I could carry–it was very heavy) and sat in a little square
for a few minutes. At about 9:50, I went in, took the elevator, and was
greeted with ... google.
Dr. Seuss land! Yes,
that was my first thought. I think the door was green, the reception
area was very colorful. The receptionist was very nice and asked me to
sign in on a computer, which printed a name badge for me. They had some
research papers by Google employees on a wall, so I grabbed a couple
(their hard drive failure study, and map/reduce).
After a few minutes, my Boston recruiter came out and greeted me,
offered me a drink from their free fridge, and took me to a small
conference room, furnished, it appears, from Ikea. It was simple,
clean, and very nice. There was a white board. I would get to know that
whiteboard very well.
My first interviewer came in and we got
started. I talked about my projects for a bit, they answered my
questions, and then we got to the problem. Each interviewer asked me to
solve a single problem (could be some sub-problems involved), and I had
to do it on paper or on the board. I wrote C/C++ code. They take note
of what you write and ask you further questions, especially if your
first solution isn’t optimal.
I tried to take extra care with my
code and not let stupid mistakes creep through. I used good
variable/function names, made sure my braces matched, and I ran through
the algorithm on the board once I had written it.
interview was one of the toughest. I was more nervous. I think I made
more mistakes–I didn’t see things as quickly as I did later.
had three interviews before lunch. They then handed me off to someone
else who would not be evaluating me, but would just be an escort for
lunch. The Google cafeterias in Mountain View are legendary, but the
Boston office is far too small to warrant such lavishness. Instead,
they have a catered lunch every day. It was wonderful. They also have
all the free drinks and candy you could want, available all the time. I
spent much of the time asking my escort questions about Google, what he
was working on (couldn’t tell me), the area, the office, the commute.
We were also joined by the head of the office, who didn’t realize I was
an interviewee, and we had a nice conversation as well.
was an hour, and then I was back in the conference room. I had two more
interviews. Then the recruiter came back in at about 3:15 or so and
debriefed me–asked me my impressions, how I felt. I reiterated what I
had told him on the phone previously, and that morning before we
started: that I was trying to take this as easy and nonchalantly as
possible, to have fun, and learn, and let it be a good experience. I
had a job that I enjoyed, and didn’t NEED this one, but I think I would
do well there and enjoy it very much. They came to me, after all.
think by the end of the day, I was really pulling that off well. Once I
got over my nervousness in the first interview, I really did have fun
and enjoy it.
They didn’t ask me any
stupid questions. None of this “what’s your biggest weakness?” garbage.
Not even the recruiter asked me anything like that. Nothing silly at
all. They also didn’t ask me easy technical questions. They got right
into the problems and the code. I had to describe an algorithm for
something and write code for it. It was serious, they were all nice–I
met people with serious reputations online. I felt like they were
respecting me as a fellow programmer–almost. I wasn’t one of them, but
they really wanted to see if I could become one of them.
receive prompts to get through certain problems, but not overly so. I
answered every question they asked. Some I answered better than others,
but the ones I didn’t get right away, I had alternate solutions, and I
understood where they were going as soon as they started talking about
Why I didn’t get the job
Well, companies these days
won’t tell you why. I think they fear it opens them up to lawsuits. I
think that’s silly. It prevents those of who really do want to learn
and improve from knowing what we’re deficient in. Oh well. They told me
that they thought I would do well at Google, but that it wasn’t a good
fit at the time, and I should apply again in the future. (Of course, I
didn’t apply in the first place.)
My suspicions, however, are
that I lean too much towards Microsoft technologies. I do a lot of work
in .Net. That’s where more and more of my experience is. I do consider
myself very good in C++, but I’m doing more and more C# work. I’ve
always been a Microsoft Windows developer.
I also am not really
interested in web-centric technologies, and I told them so. I’m more
interested in client apps on the desktop, and server apps.
course, it’s very possible I just didn’t answer the questions to their
satisfaction–that I needed more prompting than I should have. Oh well.
could also be that my GPA wasn’t what they wanted. I goofed off my
freshman year of undergraduate work. I really hurt my grades. I came
back, though, and got straight A’s for my last few years where I took
the hard CS classes. I also got straight A’s in my Master’s program
while I was working full time. I don’t think this was the issue, but
Having your own web-site is a no-brainer. Do it. Update and maintain it.
personal projects. You must be passionate, you must love programming.
You must be good at it. Not average. You must aspire to excellence and
be working towards that.
Know what you’re talking about it. Don’t show off–just display your knowledge as it applies to what they asked you.
Use an interview with them as a learning opportunity and ensure you have a good experience regardless of the outcome.
take the interview too seriously. Make sure that not everything rides
on the outcome. You must be comfortable, confident. You must try for
success in every possible way, but yet be completely prepared to
fail–and have that be ok. This is a hard balance to achieve, but I
think it can really make you have a healthy outlook and have a good
time while still showing your best self.
If you don’t get an
offer, realize that even being selected for an on-site interview by
Google puts you above the ranks of the average-good programmers. Google
gets 1,500 resumes a day. You’re already in the <>
code by hand in a notebook. This helped more than I can express. Do
stuff that’s hard that you don’t know how to do immediately. Time
yourself. Make the problem more challenging. If you can’t stretch
yourself, they will and you’ll probably break. They did not ask me to
do any of the specific questions I had practiced–but the experience
writing out and the THINKING is what helped.
Be able to explain your background (90% technical / 10% personal) in a few words. At some point you’ll be asked.
a lot of questions for people. You’re interviewing them too. Make sure
they’re good questions. Asking about salary is not a good question
before you’ve been made an offer.
I let the interview build my
own self-confidence. I have no doubt that I could walk into an
interview anywhere else and it would be laughably easy.
Don’t ignore obvious, simple solutions. Sometimes a table lookup is better than an O(n) algorithm.
a good, FUN book for the plane ride back. On the way, I focused on the
interview, but on the way home I wanted to do anything but, so I had my
current novel (Dickens’ Bleak House–very good book, by the way).
you do all of those steps, it actually doesn’t really matter if you
apply to Google or any other great/famous company–you’ll probably get
the job you want for the pay you want anyway. Somebody, sooner or
later, will come across you and give you the opportunity.
Great programmers will rarely, if ever, need to look for jobs.
hope this long, rambling essay is helpful to some. I make no claim that
my experience is typical or that I’m being completely objective. In
other words, YMMV.