Google Exec Joins Microsoft, Trashes Google

Google's focus on social and advertising is killing entrepreneurship and innovation, insists former engineering director James Whittaker.
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James Whittaker resigned his engineering director position at Google last month and took a job at Microsoft, where he had worked previously. Then on Tuesday, in a Microsoft Developer Network blog post, he explained his reason for leaving Google: The company has lost its way by blindly trying to compete with Facebook.

"The Google I was passionate about was a technology company that empowered its employees to innovate," Whittaker wrote. "The Google I left was an advertising company with a single corporate-mandated focus."

Whittaker's lament recalls the so-called Peanut Butter Manifesto published in 2006 by then-Yahoo SVP Brad Garlinghouse. There's a difference however: Garlinghouse proposed reforms for Yahoo; Whittaker's criticism merely burns a bridge.

It also echoes a post made by Tim Bray, who upon joining Google in 2010 as an Android developer advocate, took the opportunity to slam Apple's lack of openness (though Bray did not work at Apple).

And then there's a website devoted to the problems with Windows 8, presented by Mike Bibik, a former Microsoft program manager now at Amazon.

"Why I Left" is also now playing outside the tech community. Departing Goldman Sachs executive Greg Smith offered a comparable condemnation of his former employer in a New York Times op-ed on Wednesday.

Perhaps this particular literary form should be known as a "Whine-I-Left" letter.

[ Not everyone believes Google has lost its way. Read DARPA Director Leaving For Google. ]

Whittaker draws a contrast between Google under former CEO Eric Schmidt and Google under current CEO Larry Page. The Schmidt regime, he asserts, "was run like an innovation factory, empowering employees to be entrepreneurial through founder's awards, peer bonuses and 20% time." Ads, the company's primary source of revenue remained in the background.

Whittaker appears to believe that ads, like a parent at a teen's party, should remain out of sight, to avoid the embarrassment of exposing who's really in charge.

Under Page, Whittaker says, Google has devoted itself to making its products social, at the expense of innovation and entrepreneurship. And to make matters worse, Whittaker believes Google's social focus is a failure.

Google was wrong to claim that sharing on the Web is broken, Whittaker argues. "As it turned out, sharing was not broken," he said. "Sharing was working fine and dandy, Google just wasn't part of it. ... Google was the rich kid who, after having discovered he wasn't invited to the party, built his own party in retaliation. The fact that no one came to Google's party became the elephant in the room."

Whittaker's pique appears to be tailor made for Microsoft. He acknowledges that he doesn't enjoy the invasiveness of Google's social integration or the company's ads. Microsoft has been talking up Google's disinterest in privacy for years and many people nowadays, particularly legislators, are listening.

Current and former Google employees have been quick to question Whittaker's motives. In a Google+ post--there are still a few guests at the Google+ party--Andrew Kovacs, once part of Google's public relations team and now an employee of Sequoia Capital, responded with sarcasm: "Microsoftie joins Google for a few years, then leaves to work somewhere more innovative & less focused on competition... Microsoft! ... Oh, and he has a book on how Google tests software coming out soon."

Google software engineer Thomas Bushnell charged Whittaker with mouthing Microsoft talking points. "If [Whittaker] believed what he said, then he wouldn't have headed for Microsoft, which has the same problems he alleges, but in much grander style," he said in a Google+ comment. "He's rehearsing a set of standard-issue statements, with very little reason to think anything there is his real reason for the move."

The truth hurts, depending on what you think it is.

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