Leaked Memo Reveals Microsoft, Google Culture Clash

The Microsoft vs. Google rivalry took a bizarre turn Thursday in the blogosphere as speculation and controversy ran rife about a memo purportedly leaked from Microsoft featuring the impressions of an ex-Google employee about Google’s work culture.

Apparently in response to a request from a Microsoft recruiter, the former Googler details the work-hard, free-food work culture at Google.

“The culture at Google is very much like the old culture at Microsoft — back when the company felt like most employees were in their mid 20s,” the memo’s author wrote. “These kids don’t have a life yet, so they spend all of their time at work. Google provides nearly everything these people need from clothes (new T-shirts are placed in bins for people to grab twice a week!) to food — three, free, all-you-can-eat meals a day.”

Other highlights of the memo include the description of a culture with lower salaries and worse benefits than at Microsoft; little process in place for career development; and a view of developers as “interchangeable parts.” It ends by recommending that Microsoft offer free food as a way of boosting recruitment.

Strong Reactions

The memo, which was posted anonymously by an unknown user, drew ire and admiration in roughly equal proportions, depending on who was responding.

Some users, appearing to work for Microsoft, expressed outrage: “Dude you shouldn’t have published this, why do you even work for Microsoft. you should quit right away,” wrote one.

“I must say that I worked at Google for about a year as a contractor, and this description is extremely accurate,” wrote another.

Later in the day, the story took a new twist when a blogger at ZDNet figured out the likely identity of the memo’s author. Soon afterwards, a blog entry entitled “My Words” appeared at in which “Geoffrey” admits to having written the memo. He denies, however, posting it online.

The Author, Revealed?

“Today my words got splashed all around the Internet,” the author wrote. “It’s interesting to see them living a life of their own outside the context they were created in. I enjoyed seeing it on Slashdot, reading the thoughtful responses whether they agreed or disagreed, and laughing out loud at the people who were just there to make noise. It’s fun, in the abstract, to be the author of the secret thing everyone is gathered around the water cooler talking about.

“The questions did come from my recruiter and what is published is, as far as I know, my exact response,” the author went on. “I answered the questions in the context of a business communication so my response might include things Microsoft considers confidential. I made a big effort to make sure it didn’t contain any facts that Google considers confidential per my agreements with them.”

Finally, he wrote, “I definitely did not put up that Web site. The person who leaked it clearly thinks what I had to say was more important than their job security (or they clicked without thinking) and that’s certainly flattering but my opinion is worth exactly what people are paying for it.”

Officials from both Google and Microsoft declined to comment.

Talent War

The appearance of this controversy coincided closely with the publication of a Wall Street Journal article this week highlighting Google’s loss of some key talent from its workforce, Greg Sterling, founder of Sterling Market Intelligence, told TechNewsWorld.

As such, it underscores the ongoing war for talent between the two companies, as well as the rest of the high-tech industry, he said.

Another factor at work may be the fact that Google — although it does still “have cachet and appeal that other companies don’t,” Sterling noted — is becoming a large company.

“The culture that attracted many employees has changed under the weight of age, maturity and size,” Sterling noted. “These are inevitable things, but they’re also potentially worrisome for Google, whose technological lead is based in large part on its ability to attract very talented top people.”

All About Free Food?

Could Microsoft use elements of Google’s culture to transform its own culture into one more attractive to today’s young, top talent?

“Ain’t going to happen,” Yankee Group analyst Laura DiDio told TechNewsWorld.

“There’s almost a generation separating Larry and Serge from Bill and Steve,” she said. “When you start out, it’s always a freewheeling, collegial atmosphere, but Microsoft can’t go back now.”

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