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Pleasing Google's Tech-Savvy Staff

CmdrTaco posted more than 6 years ago | from the nobody-even-tries-to-please-us dept.

Google 142

An anonymous reader writes "Douglas Merrill, Google Inc.'s chief information officer, is charged with answering that question. His job is to give Google workers the technology they need, and to keep them safe — without imposing too many restrictions on how they do their job. So the 37-year-old has taken an unorthodox approach. Unlike many IT departments that try to control the technology their workers use, Mr. Merrill's group lets Google employees download software on their own, choose between several types of computers and operating systems, and use internal software built by the company's engineers. Lately, he has also spent time evangelizing to outside clients about Google's own enterprise-software products — such as Google Apps, an enterprise version of Google's Web-based services including e-mail, word processing and a calendar."

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Google's Staff (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22795500)

This should please Google's "staff"

*    n         /
*    H     o     o
*  nnHnn      [      SiT ON THiS AND ROTATE!
*  VVVVV     ___/

All Credit to Him (5, Interesting)

Avohir (889832) | more than 6 years ago | (#22795512)

I've had to do IT work for tech companies before, and it's like being the caterer at a chef's convention, they always think they could do it better. That he's managed to do it with a relative degree of success at a place as eclectic and high profile as google is impressive. I think the approach is novel too, although I'm not sure how well it would apply outside of their unique company culture.

Re:All Credit to Him (5, Insightful)

zappepcs (820751) | more than 6 years ago | (#22795624)

It always applies to other companies. The thought process it takes to create software services is what I believe should be the approach to network services. If each little group of employees is walled off the basic network, and their access outside that playpen restricted to what they need, any major error inside the playpen is less likely to corrupt the whole network. Much like a city's services are configured. Everyone needs water, electric, sewage, trash service, roads etc. If you trip the breaker in your office, the next office building is unaffected just as they are normally unaffected if your toilet overflows. In that way each can do pretty much whatever they like and all remain unharmed. I'm not saying that your hobby of cultivating anthrax is going to fly for very long, but short of that... well, you can (more or less) grow what you want in your window-box garden. You can walk down the street to the park, just not through everyone's backyards.

The idea is not to restrict people, but restrict damaging elements from hopping around your network.

Re:All Credit to Him (5, Interesting)

Kelbear (870538) | more than 6 years ago | (#22795798)

I think the kinds of people Google hires are less likely to run executables and install toolbars from seedy and irreputable niches of the internet. Other companies probably can't assume the same of their employees.

Even smart people can make errors of ignorance or naivetè with regards to their computers. It's nice that they've cordoned off the system to prevent them from torpedoing the whole network at once, but you still have a mess on the other side of the wall to clean up. Most of the important stuff is probably saved where they're regularly backed up(Google sure as hell isn't going to have problems with storage space) but there's definitely going to be downtime involved.

It's probably not worth the cost and risk for most companies. If someone wants or needs something on their system, just having them ask first is a reasonable approach.

Re:All Credit to Him (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22796756)

I think the kinds of people Google hires are less likely to run executables and install toolbars from seedy and irreputable niches of the internet. Other companies probably can't assume the same of their employees.

Exactly. IT security at most companies is designed around the belief that the average clueless user will find a way to screw something up if given too much freedom. So we lock them down in order to minimize the damage that they can do.

That's less of a problem with more technically inclined users. At my organization, we keep most of our users locked down but give our development group freedom similar to what is described in the article. They're a competent lot, fairly trustworthy and they're right across the hall. So we let them do whatever they want on their workstations, within reasonable limits.

Re:All Credit to Him (2, Interesting)

nschubach (922175) | more than 6 years ago | (#22797322)

Considering myself a technically inclined user (being a senior developer) I lock my machine down myself. I know it sounds backwards, but I don't want rogue applications running on my machine when I'm testing. Not even the ones used by my company to keep the system "inventoried."

Re:All Credit to Him (1)

element-o.p. (939033) | more than 6 years ago | (#22797448)

Exactly. That was my first thought when reading this article. It's fairly safe to assume that the employees at google are tech-savvy and motivated. It is *not* safe to assume that the customer service representatives, accountants and other non-IT workers at most other companies are equally knowledgeable about what is and what is not a good idea on company computers.

For that matter, even IT workers can be pretty adept at shooting themselves in the foot. At a place I used to work, one IT staff member was having problems with his computer in our sandbox network. Another IT staff member who was helping him troubleshoot the computer suggested they bypass the router and switch for our sandbox, and plugged the problem computer directly into a core network switch. Unfortunately, the problem with the computer was it had been infected with a virus...which then spread to (and hosed) most of the corporate network, rather than being restricted to our sandbox. Oops...

Re:All Credit to Him (1)

Instine (963303) | more than 6 years ago | (#22798876)

However, its not the impression I got when I was there. In and interview i was told that "we don't use IDEs here" and "we use EMACS or bla...". My fondness for VS was definitely frowned upon!

Re:All Credit to Him (2, Insightful)

TheLink (130905) | more than 6 years ago | (#22795916)

That's fine if the walls are 100%.

If you allow some employees access through those walls to other networks, and a hacker manages to get their credentials it can start to get quite nasty.

Even if the isolation between networks is good there's also the possibility of _work_ being secretly tampered with. I'm sure there are hacker who would want to tamper with GMail or Google Desktop.

Or confidential information leaking out.

Re:All Credit to Him (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22795976)

Maybe the chefs feel that way because it is true that the chefs who can make the food from scratch can do a better job than the caterers who simply reheat and serve it.

Re:All Credit to Him (1)

hummassa (157160) | more than 6 years ago | (#22796238)

I've had to do IT work for tech companies before, and it's like being the caterer at a chef's convention, they always think they could do it better. That he's managed to do it with a relative degree of success at a place as eclectic and high profile as google is impressive. I think the approach is novel too, although I'm not sure how well it would apply outside of their unique company culture.
The fact is: if you are the caterer at a chef's convention, probably (1) 80% of them would do it better than you and (2) the remaining 20% wouldn't, but they do think they would.
So, all credit to him for making them cook their own meals, which was more intelligent anyway and less reputation-damaging.

Nice approach (3, Insightful)

the computer guy nex (916959) | more than 6 years ago | (#22795514)

Unfortunately it will take only one mistake by one employee to ruin it for everyone.

Re:Nice approach (4, Insightful)

SanityInAnarchy (655584) | more than 6 years ago | (#22795700)

I'm not really sure how that works.

Other than leaking source code onto the Internet, I don't really see what problems this could cause. I work at a small company with a similar philosophy -- the company buys your hardware, and certain software if you need it, but you can use whatever you want so long as you're not fighting with it on the clock.

But think about it: Spam botnets can be blocked by killing port 25 outbound. Data loss can be managed by the fact that everything's on version control, which is backed up. Traditional spyware and viruses will at worst take a machine down, at which point, it's the responsibility of whoever owns that machine to fix it -- or maybe they try to spread over the local network, at which point, staying patched and/or running a personal firewall will pretty much stop it.

The only real danger would be if we got big enough to be a target for deliberate attacks, and someone stole our source code. Google is arguably this big, but I've never heard of a leak from them. TFA does mention a possible strategy:

We have antivirus and antispyware running on people's machines, but we also have those things on our mail server. We have programs in our infrastructure to watch for strange behavior. This means I don't have to worry about the endpoint as much.

So what mistake could one employee make to ruin it for everyone?

Re:Nice approach (1, Insightful)

the computer guy nex (916959) | more than 6 years ago | (#22795778)

So what mistake could one employee make to ruin it for everyone?

Your logic is faulty.

Traditional spyware and viruses will at worst take a machine down

Google is not targetted by 'traditional' viruses/spyware. The first hacker to take down their network, either internal or external facing, would be infamous.

Re:Nice approach (2, Interesting)

jd142 (129673) | more than 6 years ago | (#22796610)

Well, let's say that an employee downloads a piece of software with a license agreement that allows the software manufacturer to monitor all the data the users produces, what websites the user visits, and gives the software manufacturer the right to keep that information in perpetuity. By installing the software on google computers as an employee of google, google is now bound by that license. So sensitive company information ends up being stored on the software manufacturer's computers in perpetuity. And if the license gives the software manufacturer the right to read the information you've got a really nasty can of worms.

Or how about an employee who downloads a piece of software that is only to be installed on the employee's personal computer. The employee installs it on a work computer, thinking that it is the employee's computer and is only using it for personal use. That's wrong and suddenly Google gets audited and sued for illegal software usage.

Or even better, the software manufacturer makes the legal venue the laws of Lichtensteinavania, where the user has no rights at all.

I know, I know, the slashdot response is switch to gpl, but that isn't always an option.

I've actually run into all of these software licensing issues at my job.

Re:Nice approach (1)

argiedot (1035754) | more than 6 years ago | (#22796782)

I would think that such licence agreements wouldn't stand up in court, as in there are some things you just can't agree to[1]. I am not a lawyer and have no knowledge of law whatsoever, of course, but I would think that this would be one such case.

[1]You can't accept a licence that makes you a slave, I think, or that says that you can be killed, of which I'm sure.

Re:Nice approach (1)

jd142 (129673) | more than 6 years ago | (#22797328)

Just out of curiosity, which of the 3 examples were you thinking wouldn't hold up in court?

The first example, about monitoring all communications and tracking is pretty close to Google's own licenses.

The second example is close to one we ran into where the license said for non-commercial use only. The software's writer said he meant that to be interpreted as a personal computer at home, not a registered non-profit entity. We probably would have won if it had ever actually been adjudicated, but we just found other software to do the job.

There are lot's of contracts and licenses that bind people to a jurisdiction. Makes it easier for the big corporation if there's a problem. Credit cards do this all the time, really any time a company does business across state lines the contract outlines which state laws will control the adjudication of disputes. Dealing with international companies just means your dealing with country laws instead of state laws.

The only things you can't contract for are things that are illegal, like the murder example. You could make a valid legal contract that said you agreed to paint a person's house for $1, slave wages. You'd be stupid, but the contract would probably be ruled valid.

Re:Nice approach (1)

argiedot (1035754) | more than 6 years ago | (#22797574)

...monitor all the data the users produces, what websites the user visits, and gives the software manufacturer the right to keep that information in perpetuity...

It just sounded like a horrible thing in entirety, and I'm sure some company could stick it in their EULA and get away with it. Would that make it legal, because that sounds insane. All sorts of users just 'know' that they should check the I Agree box [1]. But then, what if someone makes software so awesome that you would actually pay that price to use it. So frankly, I don't know. And as for what I think wouldn't stand in court, I do not actually know the law, just remarking that such a thing is dangerous enough to possibly be disallowed.

I'm pretty sure that the $1 wage thing doesn't work though, wouldn't minimum wage law apply? Anyway, interesting stories, thanks for sharing. Funny that about non-commercial, I suppose one should make sure the terms mean what you think they mean when you write out a licence :)

[1]I'm pretty much an idiot too, I use GMail, but I haven't read the privacy policy through. I reckon I wouldn't understand all the implications even if I had.

Re:Nice approach (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22797662)

By installing the software on google computers as an employee of google, google is now bound by that license.

Just one of the many retarded things about EULAs. Your average worker doesn't have the legal authority to engage into a contract which would allow these things, no matter how many times he presses "I agree".

The software company wouldn't stand a chance in enforcing this. However, you've still got spyware on your machine.

Re:Nice approach (4, Funny)

somersault (912633) | more than 6 years ago | (#22796966)

The first hacker to take down their network, either internal or external facing, would be infamous.
He'd also be killed in less than 24 hours by an army of angry geeks who want their porn back

Re:Nice approach (2, Interesting)

forgotten_my_nick (802929) | more than 6 years ago | (#22797370)

I think it has less to do with a hacker and more to do with litigation. IBM for example is extremely anal about what developers are allowed access when creating applications and have to account for everything they do. Because when your a large multinational with lots of money people will try to get it from you.

Re:Nice approach (1)

orclevegam (940336) | more than 6 years ago | (#22795810)

So what mistake could one employee make to ruin it for everyone?

Installing your entire warez collection on your work computer. Sure you'd get fired when you finally get caught, but if the BSA raids the company before you're found out it could be major fines the company is responsible for. Yes they could go after you in court for it to pass on the cost, but that's even more overhead dealing with the legal system. Even barring that, there's lots of ways to misplace license keys, and the BSA won't cut you any slack unless you've got damned good records.

Re:Nice approach (2, Insightful)

TheLink (130905) | more than 6 years ago | (#22796020)

"So what mistake could one employee make to ruin it for everyone"

Get pwn3d and:
a) Commit GMail/etc code secretly backdoored by a hacker.
b) Leak out the search ranking and antisearch spam methods/algorithm google uses. Google's search results are already not as good as they were years ago.

Re:Nice approach (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22796182)

I thought that their algorithms were designed to maximize spam results...if not, they were never very good.

Re:Nice approach (2, Insightful)

bishiraver (707931) | more than 6 years ago | (#22796264)

a) I'm fairly certain google employees would review each others code before commits. TFA mentions they have automated scripts that check security of code.
b) I got nothin', though I'm willing to bet the search algorithm is one of those things that not many people get to see/tinker with.

Re:Nice approach (0)

TheLink (130905) | more than 6 years ago | (#22797718)

1) The human process could require review before commits, but is there anything preventing a person from making extra commits after a review? It might _eventually_ get spotted, but by that time it might have been exploited already.
2) Automated scripts that check security of code. I think those only work for _nonmalicious_ coders - e.g. they detect common "oops" conditions. I doubt you could have automated scripts that can detect malicious backdooring of code. Unless Google has Skynet online already ;).
3) Of the few who know the search ranking stuff, what are their controls? Are they allowed to discuss it amongst themselves on Gmail?

Google's track record on security isn't very good. It's not something they are good at.

Thing is though most companies aren't good at security, most still don't get pwn3d regularly, even the big juicy targets.

Re:Nice approach (2, Interesting)

element-o.p. (939033) | more than 6 years ago | (#22797610)

Data loss can be managed by the fact that everything's on version control, which is backed up. Traditional spyware and viruses will at worst take a machine down, at which point, it's the responsibility of whoever owns that machine to fix it -- or maybe they try to spread over the local network, at which point, staying patched and/or running a personal firewall will pretty much stop it.

That's a great theory, but more often than not, that *isn't* the way things really work. I've seen sys admins really bork config files that were using RCS. I've seen a virus take a network down for two days despite updated and running A/V and firewalls. Anyone who has worked in IT for very long is forced to admit that you can make it really, really difficult for your users to shoot themselves in the foot, but nothing you can do can guarantee security. The best firewall, the best anti-virus and the best revision/version control will give you some measure of protection, but it won't be 100% effective. Ever.

Goatse (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22795702)

Goatse. [twofo.co.uk]

You nerd faggots love it.

In other news, Zeus still sucks cock.

Re:Nice approach (1)

Brian Gordon (987471) | more than 6 years ago | (#22795788)

It will take 1 mistake to ruin that one computer he's working with, but Google can well afford to just buy another if it keeps its engineers happy.

Re:Nice approach (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22795974)

It'll take too long to replace anyway, so they'll just turn it off and set up a new one next to it.

Re:Nice approach (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22795808)

You are certainly correct. For example, I just dropped a massive, stank deuce in the office shitter. The stench is unbelievable. And now, for another 30-40 minutes, the crapper is unusable. I've ruined it for everyone.

Re:Nice approach (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22795884)

sheesh ... people make mistakes ... get over it!

Truth is if you can't handle mistake, you can't manage.

Re:Nice approach (1)

pongo000 (97357) | more than 6 years ago | (#22795944)

Unfortunately it will take only one mistake by one employee to ruin it for everyone.


Only in an organization run by an IT staff that doesn't have a clue. In any other company, said employee would simply be put on a very short leash, or shown the door.

Not really... (1)

Per Abrahamsen (1397) | more than 6 years ago | (#22796464)

If you read behind the lines, there are security measures in the network to prevent problems from spreading, and there are networks within the network, so really sensitive information is only available to few people.

It sounds like a superior approach, that probably will only work if you have a superior IT staff. So I'm not sure it is something that will scale to the rest of the industry.

NO TFA (1)

Coraon (1080675) | more than 6 years ago | (#22795518)

tried to read TFA, much to my surprise it isn't there...someone got the story?

Re:NO TFA (2, Informative)

orclevegam (940336) | more than 6 years ago | (#22795546)

Reload the page, it worked for me. Looks like their server is having a minor case of slashdotting.

Re:NO TFA (0, Redundant)

The Mighty Buzzard (878441) | more than 6 years ago | (#22795800)

You tried to RTFA? You must be new here.

Re:NO TFA (3, Funny)

Coraon (1080675) | more than 6 years ago | (#22796052)

...I was looking for pictures...I'm in lust with the google building.

Not actually a big deal (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22795544)

Even Microsoft let's its engineers download software, pick their hardware, and install an alternate OS. It's not remarkable at all in the software business.

Re:Not actually a big deal (3, Interesting)

Danny Rathjens (8471) | more than 6 years ago | (#22795694)

But do they have a PR guy savvy enough to advertise that fact and the related "enterprise" products by getting a mention in the WSJ and submitting the story to /. anonymously?

Re:Not actually a big deal (1)

evilklown (1008863) | more than 6 years ago | (#22795716)

I'm guessing that Google gives more of a choice in OS than Vista Home Premium, Vista Business, Vista Ultimate, and Windows Server 2008.

I wish our IT was like this. (5, Insightful)

dangerz (540904) | more than 6 years ago | (#22795600)

With all the restrictions on tools and languages, it seems like our IT holds us back more often than pushing us forward.

I recently built an application for my group that started off in PHP/MySQL. The customers were using it and loving it, but IT said they're not interested in supporting PHP and we weren't allowed to stand up a server. After months of talk with them and compromising, it was rewritten into JSP/Oracle. Then they said we're not allowed to do that either, so we agreed on C#.net/MS SQL. I rewrote it to that and after a month, they again came back and said no way. Getting ever more frustrated (I now had the same program in several languages), I ended up in C# Desktop Application instead of web/MySQL. They've been complaining again, but we have more leverage there in that my entire group was stood up to build desktop apps. I'll probably have to switch it to Oracle, but that shouldn't be a big hit.

We wasted lots of time and money rewriting what was already done all because of politics. I always thought IT was meant to *support* rather than hinder.

Re:I wish our IT was like this. (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22795688)

Sounds like your manage is a little bitch and didn't get them to do their jobs.
My view is that situations like this are what managers are for. They are there to traverse the politics for you to get your php application up because that's what needs to be done. They also have more leverage when talking to the IT department's manager, or when talking to the Department Manager that the IT manager probably reports to, which is good.

Re:I wish our IT was like this. (5, Interesting)

pongo000 (97357) | more than 6 years ago | (#22795914)

With all the restrictions on tools and languages, it seems like our IT holds us back more often than pushing us forward.


Beware of any job where IT support calls the shots. That is an incredibly inane and inefficient business model. IT support is exactly that: They are there to support development efforts, not to hinder them with brain-damaged policies usually written and enforced by CTOs that don't have a clue and administered by low-paying drones who substitute authority for what they lack on the pay scale.

Why even bother working for a company like that? With the upswing in IT, you sound like you've got way more than enough experience to find a job elsewhere.

Re:I wish our IT was like this. (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22796434)

I'm in finance/IT and I'd just like to say: *all* large financial companies are like the one described by pongo000.

Why not switch to a company like google ?
Simple: they pay me so much money that this form of light torture / kafkaesque work environment is still more attractive to me. The banks I work for pay me approx 4 times more than google would - this way, I can retire when I'm 40 years old (and spend time doing interesting/creative IT stuff instead of having to be chained to a corporate entity).

I work to live - I don't live to work. As hordes of clueless MBA's have had 20 years to surgically remove all the fun and creativity out of corporate IT, I have decided that I prefer to take the route that enables me to be *truly* free once I'm 40.

Re:I wish our IT was like this. (1)

dangerz (540904) | more than 6 years ago | (#22797248)

Normally, it's an amazing job. I work on several fighter plane programs so I get to see and be part of some awesome technology. It's just dealing with IT that sucks.

Re:I wish our IT was like this. (2, Interesting)

VENONA (902751) | more than 6 years ago | (#22798778)

Users v Admins is yet another category of religious war, and has been for at least 30 years. It's further complicated by the fact that the role of IT can (and does) vary from org to org. Sometimes it follows a role somewhat like you'd find described in a college's curricula listing, but they sometimes absorb more MIS-like functions, etc.

One large factor that keeps the war burning brightly is that the relative skills between various user communities and an administration community is also all over the map. I've seen developer groups who were purely code-monkeys, and made some very bad calls on software that they would then have thrown over the fence for an admin group to support, no matter the (large) impact on that support group, if someone from an admin group hadn't been able to do some basic sanity checking. OTOH, I've seen groups of users thrashing about trying to accomplish even the simplest thing, because some bit of software they needed had been wedged in the IT approval loop for several months.

Another factor is that admins often have little concept of what the developer has to deal with on a daily basis, and vice-versa. In my experience, this one doesn't get enough attention, and it often leads to people from different groups talking past each other, instead of helping each other.

Better communications, and a bit of experience on both sides of the fence, often helps people find some commonality of experience. I know I've usually had buddies (and people I didn't were too clueful) in both broad groups, in any org I've worked with. If nothing else, you can always band together with admins in mutual hatred of Roving Bands of Managers, thereby moving the religious wars to a different level.

I don't mean to deprive anyone of the pleasures of a religious war. If the two groups could somehow band together, but somehow not against Roving Bands of Managers, all is not lost. Developers can always fight other developers in the language wars, etc. Well, actually *both* sides can do that, so never mind. But admins can always fight the MTA wars, or similar, amongst themselves, while developers can argue about the One True Way to do IPC, etc.

As far as I can tell, it's turtles all the way down.

Re:I wish our IT was like this. (1)

silas_moeckel (234313) | more than 6 years ago | (#22799194)

I think your experienced divided shops to much. Try a silo approach where teams do full life cycle with admins involved from the specifications phase (things like can it work with our existing SSO engine CB evals on adding new platforms to the mix etc) and the devs involved with long term support (write a bad app you gets 3am calls, feedback loops weed out bad calls and blind passing up). Once your done a few projects that way it often leads to a much better integration.

My favorite MTA fun is a large insurance company that the programs use the email system as a message passing queue between systems think 10 million internal emails an hour. I see this all the time since oracle and the like seem to support email and ftp as built in functions so they are what get used. Scale the system up and it's a nightmare vs using the right technology's.

Re:I wish our IT was like this. (2, Insightful)

filterban (916724) | more than 6 years ago | (#22795954)

Wow. Did you bother asking them what they would support before writing the application? That seems like the better approach to me.

If they're only willing to support a specific language, then you need to work in their requirement (generally speaking).

Re:I wish our IT was like this. (2, Informative)

mc900ftjesus (671151) | more than 6 years ago | (#22796060)

Does IT make the company money? No, not a dime, they're a money sink-hole like electricity and phones. They don't call the shots just like the maintenance man doesn't call the shots. IT departments need to be enablers. When IT crosses the line from preventing you from installing tons of crap on your desktop to killing the rollout of a platform that generates revenue, someone in management should have been fired on the spot, no questions asked. IT should never dictate a product, only internal policy.

Re:I wish our IT was like this. (1)

filterban (916724) | more than 6 years ago | (#22796216)

What if the IT department was doing code-level support and their staff only was trained in supporting a specific language and infrastructure?

I agree with you in principle, but it sounds like in the original comment that there was no communication between IT and the developer in question.

Re:I wish our IT was like this. (2, Informative)

dangerz (540904) | more than 6 years ago | (#22796292)

This app started in PHP before I was here. When I came in, I rewrote it in PHP to make it more efficient and strip out some of the fat. There were emails with IT on it and they didn't seem to care. It wasn't until the app got popular and used that it became an issue.

My management did their best to fight it, but IT has a strong pull here I guess.

Re:I wish our IT was like this. (1, Insightful)

mungtor (306258) | more than 6 years ago | (#22797034)

"Does IT make the company money? No, not a dime, they're a money sink-hole like electricity and phones."

IT is a cost, but if they are doing their jobs correctly they can also work to save the company money. Most software engineers have no clue about what technology would be best to implement their products on, they only know what got touted as the best/fastest/newest thing on ./ and therefore they *must* have it (otherwise IT is "blocking" them, of course).

Generally, there's just too much ego involved from both sides. Everybody thinks their right and are more willing to play office politics to try to "prove" it than to just get the fucking job done.

Re:I wish our IT was like this. (1)

afidel (530433) | more than 6 years ago | (#22798760)

Money is nothing but a measure time and value, if IT is doing their job they are saving the company so much time that when multiplied times the average salary in the company they are in fact making the company TONS of money in reduced labor costs. That's why I restrict my users, because I get them the tools they need to do their job efficiently and I keep those tools up and running and performing well enough so that they aren't the bottleneck in the organization.

Re:I wish our IT was like this. (1)

Tetsujin (103070) | more than 6 years ago | (#22796326)

Wow. Did you bother asking them what they would support before writing the application?
Well, from what he said it sounds like:

- Initially, no - they wrote the thing in PHP just 'cause (maybe it was a prototype or maybe the devs were just experimenting and found they'd come up with something people wanted)
- In subsequent rewrites, yes - they agreed on C#, for instance, and then IT changed their mind after the thing was rewritten again in C#...

Re:I wish our IT was like this. (3, Informative)

houghi (78078) | more than 6 years ago | (#22796346)

I feel with you. The several IT departments I wored with have the same attidute of not wanting to change anything and forbid everything that could hinder them.

The worst I have seen was where I requested an email to be send from a a system. I knew it was possible. What was even worse was the fact that they had bought the CRM package for a LOT of money, because it was able to do so.

So when I asked if it would be possible to implement it, the answer was that I needed to fill out a request. I told them I could only fill out the request if I knew how much money it would cost.

Catch 22. The procedure on how to do things was written and nothing could change that.

I have seen IT departments that were unable to remove certain rights from people if they would not need them anymore, because there was no procedure for it.

I myself had, due to human error, access to each and every place in the building. More then anybody else. When I mentioned this, they told me that because I got it, somebody must have OKed it so I have the right to it.

IT departments just LOVE procedures. Basicaly because they are so easy to put in logical yes and no questions and answers. They should start with some debugging of their procedures and realise that the real world is more then if, then, else.

It seems that the person at Google has done just that.

Re:I wish our IT was like this. (1)

kiwimate (458274) | more than 6 years ago | (#22796400)

After months of talk with them and compromising, it was rewritten into JSP/Oracle. Then they said we're not allowed to do that either, so we agreed on C#.net/MS SQL. I rewrote it to that and after a month, they again came back and said no way. Getting ever more frustrated (I now had the same program in several languages), I ended up in C# Desktop Application instead of web/MySQL.

What am I missing? You had discussions with IT and agreed on whatever platform. What happened when they said "no way", and you waved the sign-off sheet in their face and pointed out they'd already agreed to this? If this is a pattern (which it obviously is), I think it's crystal clear you get an agreement in writing.

Re:I wish our IT was like this. (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22796478)

We wasted lots of time and money rewriting what was already done all because of politics. I always thought IT was meant to *support* rather than hinder.

Not if it's Microsoft. Then the 'IT' department is working against you. Sure you pay them, but their goal is to further the agenda of their political party. It's got stock and it files with the SEC but sure enough some kind a political party.

If they can't force you to toe Bill's line, they do their most to throw sand in your gears to see if you'll give up.

Re:I wish our IT was like this. (1)

poot_rootbeer (188613) | more than 6 years ago | (#22796910)

See, after the first time you spent a month rewriting a working application to satisfy requirements agreed to by the IT Department, only to have the delivered work capriciously rejected, that's when your department should have gone to the CEO/VP/any bigwig with a sympathetic ear, and the director of IT should have gotten a chewing-out.

Re:I wish our IT was like this. (1)

Culture20 (968837) | more than 6 years ago | (#22797044)

Sounds like there weren't any security impact meetings and that one group in "IT" didn't care, but once the app was up and running, another group (whatever your security group is called) _did_ care, a _lot_. IT isn't just a "utility" through which the money makers provide services to the clients, it's also a buffer that protects the whole company from security flaws that can lose said clients.

Re:I wish our IT was like this. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22797930)

We wasted lots of time and money rewriting what was already done all because of politics. I always thought IT was meant to *support* rather than hinder.

I Hate programming in I/T shops. Most managers are like Dilbert's always seeking the most complex error prone way of software design and coding. They repeat their disasters time and time again. If with they would measure management effectiveness like code, defective decision per hundred made. They might find, management, not programmers need the most help.

If you really want to program and do it well, you make for a company that develops software as their #1 business and has set good practices and culture. Far too many I/T shops are far too out of control to be any good at real software development.

Re:I wish our IT was like this. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22799002)

Decision tree for approving an IT implementation.

IT QUESTIONS

1. Does a similar service already exist on the network?
        Yes - Not approved (use the existing resource...)
        No - continue

2. Will the implementation harm the company/network? (security flaws, license problems, bandwidth hog, etc.)
        Yes - Not approved (try again with a redesign...)
        No - continue

FINANCE QUESTIONS

3. Does the budget exist to cover the initial costs? (HW/SW purchase, developer time to write code, etc.)
        Yes - continue
        No - Not approved (come back when you have the $$...)

4. Does the budget exist to cover ongoing costs? (license renewals, maintenance contract, support staff, etc.)
        Yes - continue
        No - Not approved (come back when you have the $$...)

MANAGEMENT QUESTIONS

5. Is there a business need?
        Yes - Approved
        No - Not approved

The question is... (2, Informative)

adpsimpson (956630) | more than 6 years ago | (#22795614)

From the article:

"How do you run the information-technology department at a company whose employees are considered among the world's most tech-savvy?"

Re:The question is... (1)

Jellybob (597204) | more than 6 years ago | (#22796366)

The way we do it at the place I work (a mid-sized ISP), is that the first thing you do when you start is pick an operating system, and install it on your workstation. From that point forward maintaining your desktop is your job - IT support are there to manage the network, the internal file servers, and to look after the non-technical departments Windows machines.

This works remarkably well, but that's because our floor is about a 50/50 split of software developers and sysadmins, and we all know our way around a *nix install. If you do have any problems you can't fix, odds are there's somebody who can fix it around the place.

Re:The question is... (1)

Quattro Vezina (714892) | more than 6 years ago | (#22798544)

This is exactly like the company where I work.

Well, we usually don't have to install our own workstations--new employees usually get a machine that used to belong to someone who left. They can reinstall it if they want, but no one bothers. Engineering desktops are an eclectic mix of Debian, Ubuntu, and Fedora. The actual machines are usually old HP, Compaq, or Gateway PCs, but we also have several System76 boxen with preinstalled Ubuntu.

For engineers, we maintain our own desktops, though the company-issued laptops are maintained by IT (but nearly everyone in engineering has a Linux desktop they maintain). The layout of the labs is the responsibility of the department using the lab (development, QA, or customer support depending on the lab); IT only handles the basic network infrastructure. File servers, build machines, etc. used by development are maintained by developers (and I'm one of the two developers who usually maintain these machines). IT just gives us the hardware we need and makes sure we have connectivity. The only servers IT directly maintains are general servers like the mail server, the company directory, the core gateway, etc.

If I have a problem with something on my machine, I'll always ask one of the more senior developers. Our IT guy (there's only one; this company is tiny) is a great guy, but the developers have the most experience with Linux workstations. I love working at a startup.

How? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22795644)

Okay... Sounds interesting, but how exactly security and proper licensing is maintained? Could other companies emulate it?

Re:How? (5, Insightful)

orclevegam (940336) | more than 6 years ago | (#22795758)

Okay... Sounds interesting, but how exactly security and proper licensing is maintained? Could other companies emulate it?
Maybe. Depends a lot on the company I imagine. Part of the reason it flies at google is because of something mentioned in the article. Almost everyone is an engineer of some type, and they all have security training. The security bit isn't as important, but as far as licenses go, most of them should understand you can't for instance bring your copy of MS Word in from home and install it on your company system. At companies with less technically inclined individuals, they may not see the problem with installing whatever software they can find on their company systems (talking from a purely licensing standpoint here, not talking about security). Essentially if Google got raided by the BSA they'd probably fair pretty well, but some other non-IT centric company might not fair as well with a similar IT policy. Of course, there's no reason for any company not to implement a similar policy for all their technical users at least.

Re:How? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22796160)

In my experience even most software developers don't really have enterprise-level security mindset/knowledge embedded in their mind. No one can blame them, it's just not their job, concern. And it is certainly not their responsibility. It would be interesting to see, what would happen at Google in case of a major security breach, caused by uncontrolled environment. Where would the buck stop?

As for licensing... I really don't know if engineers have any higher standards in this area than people at accounting.

The question if this is a model that can be followed by other companies remains.

Re:How? (1)

orclevegam (940336) | more than 6 years ago | (#22797566)

As for licensing... I really don't know if engineers have any higher standards in this area than people at accounting.
Not really a question of standards, it's more an awareness of what your doing on your computer. Many people just know you click next a bunch of times until the software gets installed, and the licensing issue doesn't really cross their mind much. They may even think that the license they have for their home system can be used to perform the install on their corporate system (in some cases it might, but you actually need to read that license to know for sure). To a great many users software is just something you put on the computer to do things and they don't give a second thought to where it comes from, or what license it uses. Engineers (or developers or system administrators, pick your IT title) usually have a better grasp of software, and a more refined understanding of where things come from, and the implications of clicking that "I accept" button.

Re:How? (4, Insightful)

bishiraver (707931) | more than 6 years ago | (#22796316)

I'm willing to bet that any licensed software is freely available from internal google downloads, along with the legal license to said software. Google has the money to, after all.

Mostly fluff (5, Insightful)

orclevegam (940336) | more than 6 years ago | (#22795668)

Not much to this article but there are a few interesting tidbits. A lot is in the summary, so not much need to go to the actual article, but something interesting not in the summary is when he talks about googles security environment, and why it's not really a security risk to let people install whatever they want. What it boils down to, is that the old style security of locking down the endpoints (that is, peoples workstations) makes people sleep better, but doesn't actually provide much in the way of security. Instead they focused on securing the infrastructure, such as running AV software on the mail server, and intrusion detection software that monitors the networks and servers, plus one would assume properly configured firewalls. He also mentions that being a search company they already had really tight security in place and that few people had access to customer data, so adding security to support outside enterprise data wasn't a big leap.

Re:Mostly fluff (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22796670)

There is a huge flaw in that argument. By protecting the infrastructure you have prevented any malware form hitting the outside or using that infrastructure to spread. But any nodes internally are wide open to be compromised. A simple mail bot could flood your entire local network segement, even if it never got past the gateway router to send to the internet. It could also send to any mail servers accepting SMTP sessions from internal machines.

Security people have preached a layered approach for a long time for a reason. Ignoring one of those layers is foolish at best.

that having been said, the userbase at Google is probably 100x more capable of dealing with an issue should one arise than a typical company. That alone explains why this work in my opinion. Its like giving car keys out. You would never do it in a preschool or Elementary school, but a highschool you might and a college you definatley would.

Question: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22795704)

Mr. Merrill's group lets Google employees download software on their own, choose between several types of computers and operating systems, and use internal software built by the company's engineers.
Do they use Google to search for torrents, or The Pirate Bay?

It all comes down to this.... (0)

Itninja (937614) | more than 6 years ago | (#22795714)

Mr Merrill: "....We use automated tools that check every engineer's code."

So who writes these 'automated tools' and who checks those? I sure hope they have a human in the security audit mix somewhere....

Re:It all comes down to this.... (2, Informative)

ccguy (1116865) | more than 6 years ago | (#22795870)

So who writes these 'automated tools' and who checks those?
Most likely they use those tools to check themselves, pretty much as you compile (most of) a compiler with itself, debug a debugger, and so on.

If you are interested in how these recursive tools work, check valgrind [valgrind.org] 's documentation (interesting because it relates a bit how some design decisions were made so that valgrind could be used on itself) for example.

Enterprise-software? (1)

Bromskloss (750445) | more than 6 years ago | (#22795724)

Is that a synonym for "software"? The sentence would seem to make sense then.

My company does this too! (1)

That_Chubby_Kid (1252114) | more than 6 years ago | (#22795736)

Nice people email me free software samples. I even get more free email now. My computer runs really slow now. I think it's because it can do so much more work now.

Great! I'm tired of the servant being the master. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22795776)

Why shouldn't the system adapt to the people instead of the people adapting to the system?

I fail to see the "tech-savvyness" here... (0)

pongo000 (97357) | more than 6 years ago | (#22795852)

...the last few gigs I've worked, there have been little to no restriction on what we could download on our Linux/Windows servers and workstations. We were tasked with a job, and granted the level of trust and discretion needed to get the job done.

Why would I work at a company that expects me to play the game with my hands tied behind my back?

As usual, another non-story about Google framed as an earth-moving event.

test (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22795934)

test

Not uncommon in tech-savvy organisations (3, Insightful)

Bertie (87778) | more than 6 years ago | (#22795970)

I also worked at a very big company which let us do this. Not company-wide, just the couple of thousand people that worked where I did, which was probably very similar to Google in terms of the sort of people who would work there. We were considered to be bright enough to stand on our own two feet. We weren't the sort to bother tech support unless it was a problem with, say, networking - applications we'd installed were our problem, and besides that we'd be more likely to know what we were doing with those applications than the average techie. It meant that if we needed a particular piece of software or equipment, we didn't have to wait weeks to get sign-off from God Himself - we went and downloaded it and our manager found the money for it if it had to be paid for. We were trusted not to buy stuff we didn't need, and by and large it worked. Treat people like adults and they'll behave like adults, mostly.

More than once I got hold of an oldish spare computer and installed Gentoo Linux on it, and the only justification I had for doing so was that Windows got on my nerves. Not much of a business case, but as far as they were concerned I was a big boy and could look after myself, and it was no skin off their nose as long as it didn't take up tech support's time.

The only thing that made us different from the tied-down masses elsewhere in the company was our level of knowledge about what we were working with. I maintain that the best security system is user education. Obviously that's not to suggest that you should throw caution to the wind, but clued-up people generally won't get you in trouble. So clue them up.

Right now I'm in a much more locked-down environment and it's incredibly frustrating. Something as simple as connecting to a printer is a nightmare because I have to go through some tech support clown who invariably knows a lot less than I do and bumbles around randomly prodding things till it works. I don't have admin rights to my own machine, and useful things like the command line are blocked. It drives me mad, and it holds me back in my work, but hey, some IT goon has an easier life because of it, so it's all fair enough, right?

Google is full of smart people, and the people in charge are clearly smart enough to treat them as such. I wish more companies would follow this example.

Re:Not uncommon in tech-savvy organisations (2, Insightful)

KiltedKnight (171132) | more than 6 years ago | (#22796666)

Not for nothing, but back in its heyday at AOL, you supposedly had some of the best, brightest, and most innovative developers... yet a lot of them were NOT email savvy at all. People would just download and open attachments from random, unknown people without performing a virus scan or anything like that.

Just because you have some brilliant techies doesn't mean they are all security conscious as well.

Re:Not uncommon in tech-savvy organisations (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22797140)

some IT goon who probably has to manage 999 other desktops for people less technically inclined than this one code monkey has a [manageable job] because of it

Fixed

Programmers make marginal sysadmins, and vice-versa. Let the goon do his job.

Re:Not uncommon in tech-savvy organisations (1)

Bertie (87778) | more than 6 years ago | (#22797608)

But that's my point - basic computer common sense training should be mandatory, so that we can have a bit more freedom with our machines, and tech support can have a quieter life. I'm sure they'd rather not have to do mundane crap like authorising me to use certain printers when I've got the wit to do it myself, and I understand why they won't let me, but if time was taken to show everybody the ropes, it'd be one less thing they'd have to worry about, because they could assume a certain level of knowledge for all users. Right?

It really bothers me that people can spend all day every day working on a computer and not only not know much about how to work it, but think that this ignorance is something to brag about. If it's the main tool of your trade, you should know how to operate it, and by that I mean something beyond finding your way around the common applications you come into contact with day-to-day. I hate to use a car analogy, but it's like driving without knowing how to change a tyre.

(I'm not a code-monkey, by the way, just someone who knows one end of a computer from the other)

Re:Not uncommon in tech-savvy organisations (1)

element-o.p. (939033) | more than 6 years ago | (#22797790)

I think the only way to really teach people what you call basic common sense is to make them work the IT help desk for a month before they start their real jobs, and I don't see that happening any time soon.

Once you've had to clean up the mess that someone else made of their computer because they didn't understand nearly as much as they thought they did, you start to realize why the rules are the way they are. But until you've been there, it's very, very easy to just assume that IT is on a power trip, they are just trying to get in your way, they are just playing office politics, etc., etc., etc.

Re:Not uncommon in tech-savvy organisations (1)

DanQuixote (945427) | more than 6 years ago | (#22797684)


Wow, no admin to your own machine? No command line? WTF?

Are you required to get potty passes as well?

When you are denied access to the required tools for the job, you are selling yourself short.

Get. the. hell. out!!! of there!

It's kinda like drugs... a fun ride, but you really don't want to be stuck there. Just say NO!

Ehh. (1)

bytesex (112972) | more than 6 years ago | (#22796050)

This is /special/ in IT ? Well, I be darned - it's never been different in any way for me, at least.

Could someone post the article text? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22796090)

Apparently WSJ's web site is so broken, you can't see the article text if you use Noscript to prevent them from executing code on your machine.

standards-compliance (2, Insightful)

PigleT (28894) | more than 6 years ago | (#22796174)

The reason this works is because he's a sensible fellow who knows standards-compliance. both in network protocols and data formats, is more important than the mere name of the OS or application issuing them.

Quick Story (4, Interesting)

Cytlid (95255) | more than 6 years ago | (#22796246)

I've actually experienced this type of thing in the last two jobs I've had. Allow me to explain.

  I moved from my job in NY as a System Admin for an ISP. I won't name names, but our major tech we used was Cisco, Solaris, Linux and VMware ESX.

  My family and I moved to SC for the nicer weather ... I landed a job as Sr Network Engineer for an ASP. I thought, ASP, can't be too different. Well 800 miles away, some things are the same, some are different. I'm a command-line, CLI type guy. The ASP is an MS Gold Partner and takes advantage of Citrix. All the network gear is Cisco (which is where me and my team come in). I thought, oh great ... I don't belong here (except for the Cisco stuff). For the record, we do have *some* Linux hosting and colo.

  But I setup a few smallish vmware servers and I'm happy. I have my Linux-in-a-box. I've done a bunch of grepping and typing and scripting and such this morning, and I found some new issues that I didn't see before without seeing the "big picture".

  So back to my point. I'm very picky about the apps I use and whatnot, so it's hard for me to "conform" to an IT ruleset about what can and cannot be run on company machines. The ISP I worked at was very flexible in this manner, for some reason I expect this out of the new job.

  Our business model is we sell these published apps and hosting to our customers. We run a large private MPLS network and connect many smaller places to us. They can run Office 2007 from a website.

  Then it hit me. Things have been getting really optimized in the last year or two, so we're using our own stuff. My office apps "live" in a website. The revelation came that now, when it comes to my laptop (or desktop), I can do whatever I want. Notice this is typically a nightmare for common IT shops, but many of our smaller customers think IT is a pain and will be happy with published apps and thinclients. For someone like me, who is tech-savvy, I can format my machine and install Linux (some of the other guys have already done so). Because there's a Citrix web client for Linux (I use it at home). Involve virtualization in the mix, and our datacenter becomes one giant network, one giant machine that we manage and the apps are just floating around inside. We manage all the security and whatnot, and keep it running.

  So in a way, you really can have it both ways. We're not a Web 2.0 shop, but our method is definitely Another Way to Do It.

Last Adopter (5, Insightful)

salesgeek (263995) | more than 6 years ago | (#22796364)

IT departments are typically the last adopters of anything. They typically roll up to the CIO, who typically is not a real C level executive. The CIO typically works for the CFO and is an advisory member of the executive committee in most companies. Information Technology generally has two crucial corporate functions: automating accounting functions and managing corporate communication platforms like phones and email. Everything else that happens on a computer - i.e. productivity applications, intranets, etc... are side effects of putting general purpose computers on desks and are secondary functionality. IT Departments have generally claimed fiefdoms over all things computerized so they can have bigger budgets, more resources and are harder to fire and outsource. It's ugly. But true. Most IT innovation starts in some department, and goes like this:
  • Kid in sales writes really cool web app that sells product automagically on MySpace.
  • IT finds out about it, can't integrate it with accounting, tries to kill it.
  • Kid freaks out because someone who is three managers over him is calling him asking what he's doing.
  • Kid's boss freaks out because CIO is calling his employee.
  • Project is killed when Bosses Boss finds out about it because it doesn't make sense to him OR - Bosses Boss intervenes and tells IT to stuff it, and counts money from sales from web app.
  • IT is forced to support web app because CFO now needs to book revenues for month or quarter.
  • Kid is transfered from sales to IT and leaves company one year later to start company that sells MySpace widgets and goes on to become millionaire.

Re:Last Adopter (1)

narsiman (67024) | more than 6 years ago | (#22797282)

Moral of this story is - if the company had kept the kid happy, she would have been just that - a programmer with a simple salary. Instead she is an employer. Long last the boring IT.

Re:Last Adopter (1)

mythosaz (572040) | more than 6 years ago | (#22797850)

Very, very true.

I work in the IT "automation" department of a company where I help support 30,000 desktops and 2,000 servers. Nearly 5,000 of our desktops now run a shell replacement that was designed only as a way to prevent a small number of machines from ever having access to their printer settings. Someone at the top liked it, and now our tiny widget is a desktop standard.

Re:Last Adopter (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22799026)

"really cool web app" kids are rare. "time wasting, torrent dl'ing, IM chatting" kids are pretty common. Lock-down works well for 95% of the kids, therefore lockdown is preferred. :(

Now. (-1, Offtopic)

DAldredge (2353) | more than 6 years ago | (#22797108)

Now if google would just fix the sizing bugs and lack of color coded labels in their google apps for domains product.

federal regulations (1)

narsiman (67024) | more than 6 years ago | (#22797330)

Google does not have to care about is federal regulation like SOX since IT is its internal process.

Much of what is being done in other firms are due to accounting than core IT. If this guy has a process that can be easily accounted and audited, fortune firms would jump in. Otherwise it will be just another starry view at Google.

Re:federal regulations (1)

wsanders (114993) | more than 6 years ago | (#22798472)

Huh? GOOG is a public company - it is subject to the same rules as everyone else.

They are just doing things are are so weird, and so different, from anyone else, that their IT functions are more tightly coupled to the rest of the company than most places.

Wow (1)

Teflon_Jeff (1221290) | more than 6 years ago | (#22797450)

Reason's number 62,459-62,468 why I wish I worked at Google. Letting you choose your own machine and OS? No limits on software? I'm in heaven.

Confessions of a former IT employee... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22798476)

One of the developers downloaded a demo of an IDE and developed a small project using it. Somehow his code made into production even though he hadn't acquired a license for the software. A few years later, we had to fix a bug in his code. The guy was gone. The software he had used was no longer in the market and a lot of the stuff he did was stored in proprietary binary formats. Result... they had to re-write everything from scratch. At least we avoided the law suit since the supplier never found out that we had broken the license agreement of his demo software.

This is a true story and it happened in a company listed in the Forbes 500...
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