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Ever Wonder How Google’s Technology Actually Works?

To say that Google is a dominant force in today’s technology market is a bit of an understatement.  The key driver of their success is not their business model, but their technology.  Google is notoriously secretive about their technology but some smart folks can reverse engineer public information to get a pretty good idea.

Ed Austin recently gave a talk entitled “The Anatomy of the Google Architecture.”  His presentation provides an in depth analysis of the entire Google architecture.  Here’s a snapshot of the Google architecture stack:

Ed’s presentation, shown below, walks through each element in the Google architecture stack.  If you ever wanted to learn how a technology leader builds highly scalable, performant, and cost effective hosted solutions, Google has given you the roadmap to do it.

Why I’d fail a Google interview and be glad I did

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Image representing Google as depicted in Crunc...
Image via CrunchBase

So the Seattle interview coach‘s insights on the Google interview process is fairly interesting and made me think about how I might handle these alleged actual interview questions.  While I’m not sure these are real questions, it’s worth a little fun.

Google’s hiring process has been talked about online by many folks and the experience of being a member of Team Google is varied from a great freakin thing to just a bad experience.   While the interview below is fiction, I did have a strange call with Google HR myself in 2005 which I only remember as odd.

So in the spirit of trying to think how I might have actually done with some of the questions which could be thrown around during a product management interview at Google, this is my take on being interviewed by 3 folks at Google.

Interviewer 1: Why do you want to join Google?

Well, I’m not quite sure I do want to join Google, but you have to take the interview right?  I mean you have the most interesting data set which would be cool to analyze in context of a given product or market.  Y’all got everything on everything, B2B, B2C, B2G AND random life insights.  I just think it would be exciting to look at the nuances in your data and see what I could do with it.

Interviewer 2: What do you know about Google’s product and technology?

I suspect you would like a little more than it’s cool, right?  To that end, I guess I would want to put a little more of a boundary around it, since your product portfolio is so diverse.  As a user of search, gmail and one of the lucky people to get a Wave invite early, I guess I would say that your technology is more about changing the world than anything else.

Change the way people view search, change the way they manage thier email and change the way they collaborate. I guess if you put it that way, it’s a little creepy but I’m ok with hegemony – I mean someone has to do it.

Interviewer 1: If you are Product Manager for Google’s AdWords, how do you plan to market this?

I probably wouldn’t use AdWords, it would be just a little too cliche and dali-esque.  Really good question though, but I’m confident I wouldn’t want a recursive loop product management gig.  How about we talk Postini? Google Earth? Something I have an interest in.

Interviewer 3: How would you re-position Google’s offerings to counteract competitive threats from Microsoft?

ME: BING! I was wondering how long it would take until Microsoft came up.  Do you really think Microsoft is the biggest competitor? The Amazon cloud? Apple?

Well if you insist it is MSFT, then I would probably put it this way: While my parents like the pretty pictures on Bing and to search on their health conditions because they are more of a hypochondriac in their 70’s than most, I’m not convinced this is your target market.  Is it?  Do you want to own the geriatric segment? I mean patience is a virtue, we all get old some day.

Well, I guess then it is just pure brute force brand spend if you are concerned about Redmond that much.  I would also consider enhancing your MSFT related search terms with mainly negative marketing information and propaganda.  Or you could encourage each of the Google fanboy’s on the planet to purchase one share of MSFT stock so they could more actively participate in harassing Ballmer at Microsoft quarterly and annual shareholder meetings.

Interviewer 2: You are shrunk to the height of a nickel and your mass is proportionally reduced so as to maintain your original density. You are then thrown into an empty glass blender. The blades will start moving in 60 seconds. What do you do?

I’d wait for a while and see what happens.  The funny thing about quantum physics/mechanics is it is all about the observer.  I really like the original density piece, it adds to the panic level of the interviewer and avoids the “F#$k it, I’m as dense as a diamond, bring it on blender!” option.

Interviewer 3: How many golf balls can fit in a school bus?

It depends is the easy answer, because ya need to know if it is a short bus, school bus, a metro, tourist bus or crazy Guatemalan chicken bus.  But to be definitive with a number, 176,400.  The beauty of Google Voice Search on the iPhone is that you can look up stupid trivia in milliseconds and do massive calculations on the fly.  Since you’ve already created the technology to handle these types of questions I am not sure I’d hire a product manager who was proud that he could work all of this out in his head.

Interviewer 1: So how would you explain a database in three sentences to your eight-year-old nephew?

Wow, what a coinkidink! I actually did this for my 4 year old just the other day when I was working at home doing some massive inner and outer joins on a some customer data I had.  I told Prescott “databases are just a way to manage large data sets and establish relationships.  It is important to know that even though a relationship exists it doesn’t really mean anything.  Kind of like when you tried to convince me the guy in the giant chicken suit at the fair was the brother of that killer chicken kebab we just ate.  Just remember this – correlation doesn’t mean causation and you should be able to avoid a bunch of pitfalls in life”

Interviewer 3:  How much should you charge to wash all the windows in Seattle?

What is the time line to completion? Is it a long term contract or a one time gig? What kind of sign off process is involved?  It’s hard to answer if you don’t know the service level expectations.  In theory, I could wait until the next rain and invoice everyone.

While I like the last option, invoice for nothing in the spirit of governmental largess, I think $0 is what I should charge because we shouldn’t be washing windows at all.  I hearken back to the Google motto of “Do No Evil.”  Window washing is a waste of money, damages the environment, and exploits vulnerable workers.  666 window washers have fallen to their deaths in the past six years.  Google should be at the forefront of the window washer-less office movement.

Interviewer 3: You have to get from point A to point B. You don’t know if you can get there. What would you do?

Are you high?  Draw a straight line, duh.  First the golf ball question, now this theoretical spatial dilemma with no reference points other than the before-mentioned A and B.

Interviewer 2: Four people need to cross a rickety rope bridge to get back to their camp at night. Unfortunately, they only have one flashlight and it only has enough light left for seventeen minutes. The bridge is too dangerous to cross without a flashlight, and it’s only strong enough to support two people at any given time. Each of the campers walks at a different speed. One can cross the bridge in 1 minute, another in 2 minutes, the third in 5 minutes, and the slow poke takes 10 minutes to cross. How do the campers make it across in 17 minutes?

Can you repeat the first thing again? The Doritos the other guy was eating to stave off the munchies attack got in the way of me hearing the question.

Interviewer 1: There’s a latency problem in South Africa. Diagnose it.

Can you say business class to Cape Town, a command line, packet loss metrics and a bunch of trace route data?

Interviewer 2: What are three long term challenges facing Google?

Only 3?  I mean there are 3 in this room.

Thanks for sharing a little fun with the fictitious interview leveraging the questions available online of things which just might be asked in a Google interview, maybe.

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Give Me a Dunce-Cap — I’ve Missed the Mobile Revolution

I came across an interesting presentation the other day that reminded me how significant the impact mobile devices, and especially the iPhone, are having on the technology marketplace.  Chi-Hau Chien, a partner in Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers $100 million iFund, gave a presentation at iPhoneDevCamp 3 entitled The Power of the AppStore and its Future Opportunities.  The full presentation is embedded below.

In 14 simple slides, Chi-Hua re-iterates what the scale of mobile technology’s impact has been on the market in the past 5 years.  Consider the following slides I’ve excerpted from the presentation:


Basically, there are four times as many mobile phone users today as there are Internet users. 


The AppStore has shown even greater growth.

I’ll couple these observations with an anecdote from my own house.  A couple of months ago, my oldest brother stopped by for a visit.  While he was here he was talking about the need to get a new cell phone.  Two of my daughters, aged 11 and 10 at the time, went and got their cell phones and were showing my brother all of the cool things you could do with the new basic phones that were available today.  I thought back to the first ‘bag phone’ I had in 1985 and marveled at how much technology had changed and the fact that a couple of pre-teens were at the cutting edge.  This is not a new revelation – it’s been repeated millions of times in households all across the globe in the past 5 years.

I am basically a historian by training and when I look at the enterprise software market I think about the big transitions that have occurred in the past 30 years like the advent of the PC in the early 1980s, relational databases in the mid-80s, client-server computing in the 1990s, and the Internet in the early years of this century.  Each of these technology waves spawned a huge set of market opportunities that have fueled the growth of the biggest software companies in the marketplace today – IBM, Google, Oracle, Microsoft, SAP, etc.  Chi-Hua’s presentation helped me to put in perspective what I’ve known about mobile technology for a long time.  While social media technologies are somewhat the darling of the technology marketplace today, it’s clear to me that the next great generation of large technology.

Here’s Chi-Hua’s full presentation:

View more documents from Raven Zachary.

Year 3 Kick Off: Build/Buy/Partner Analysis – 3 of 3

With 2 parts out of the series down and the market research in place, I completed my last item of reviewing items starred in my feed reader and bookmarked pages – basically the final input which ultimately represents the functional equivalent of a 360 review of  last year’s content.  There are several key things I learned which will influence what I do going forward:

  • Search is a really quirky thing.  Odd really how it all works out, not only do I still own giggly quotes on google – it accounts for the majority of new visits – imagine that.  Hmmm, search drives where people go online, while intuitive and logical, it’s always interesting to look at the metrics for a fact based approach.
  • People share and engage just because they got something to add. I’m not sure I have any better an idea than before the effort, but just like the twitter network audit I did last year, I know a little more about the ‘shape’ of things.
  • There are a bunch of real smart people doing cool things out there. Through the interviews I did, the feedback, the links and articles other people wrote which I read, I’m just humbled by cool people I know and the stuff they did last year.

After reviewing all the metrics and content, I’ve been able to identify 3 key persona’s which I think happen to find this place.

Product Management/Brand Marketing Type: A little too busy to really read or surf and is looking for a technology product management filter.  Main value drivers is “quick hit content” and they appear to come back more so than not – I think.

Randoms: Some vaguely relevant search term got you here, but only like 3% show back up. So not sure there is a value driver for this group, but I think they just are out looking for random stuff/questions to be answered.

People I know: This is the most fun group and since you are people I know, you probably don’t have an opinion one way or another, but still chime in on topics every now and again – either on facebook or through comments.  OK, perhaps they have comments, but are polite enough to stay nice and say something in person.  This group is also more or less technology wonks, product marketing types and brand enthusiasts who I may have met at a tweet up, the panic show or some other random career activity.

So since I think I might have this persona thing for Spatially Relevant down, I’m off to putting a plan in place to:

  • Encourage More Conversation
  • Identify a Better Way to Understand the Readers
  • Link more cool people up together

Achieving the Plan: Build or Buy or Partner?

There are many things I could do to drive forth on these initiatives on my own – commit to 2 pieces a week which aren’t random business slides to see what richer metrics I could get which could allow me to meet more cool people.    If I wrote more, I could potentially work towards achieving them on some sort of incremental YoY scale.  Not that interesting to me, since this blogging stuff is tough stuff and I think it makes you gain weight.  So I need a different option.  The option I settled on was partnering with some cool people I know to help build out content, 2 which currently blog, 1 one that hasn’t and 1 that continously says she will.

John Mecke – A technology operator, product management type who really prefers to browse Hoover metrics more than anyone I know. Full disclosure: I worked for John, with him and previously written with him before most recently on a piece to be published in November.

Keith Finger – Met Keith randomly thanks to Erik Wolf, the lead principle at Zero G Creative.  He’s been a very interesting cat whom I really starting to like.  He focuses on brand’s and how integrating a nurturing initiative can dramatically increase a products position in the marketplace.

Sheryl Altschuler – She say’s she’s going to blog, not sure she will.  But one of the best writers I know and she continuously providing feedback to me via email and phone on stuff I write.  I wouldn’t call her a luddite, but she does definitely prefer real life activities.

Stephen Smith – I’ve known Stephen for just over 2 years and he is just one of those cool people you find in life.  Smart guy, motivated and genuine – oh the people you can meet on the internet.

Many thanks for your patience as I worked through this years strategic plan with y’all and let’s see if the 3rd year of Spatially Relevant is as much fun.

If you want to find out more about these folks, just visit the contributors page – did think about calling it the partners page, but wouldn’t really make sense outside of this post.  I also have some random guest posts on the way as well.  Cheers!