Something I read a long time ago left quite an impression on me. In particular, the stories of Jacob from Put A Num On It describing his experiences around the coffee machine at his old job. The whole piece is interesting and great, and you ought to give him the attention needed to read the coffee stories in context.
But Jacob has the most obvious flaw for someone writing a blog entitled "Put A Num On It" – the tendency to rely on models, and the obvious faults in those models, to guide behavior. This is normally a pretty minor mistake, but I'd like to explore something he doesn't: why people want to "bring their whole selves to work" like Google wants you to.
Because I don't think it's a penalty extracted by Google on people who want prestige, money, stability and whatever else Google offers. I think it's something that actively attracts people to their workplace. Don't get me wrong, I certainly appreciate professionalism, in the sense Jacob describes it: since the company truly, deeply doesn't care about anything except making and selling a great product, all your other opinions don't matter. It's not that you can't say what you think, it's just that it's off-topic low-value chit-chat. I appreciate that a lot. And that attitude really does foster a wide diversity of opinion, which is valuable. Having 100 people with the same experiences has diminishing returns just like everything else.
So, understanding that he's totally right about the upsides of professionalism, why do people not like it? Why is the opposite so compelling?
I think it's because Google is shaping so much of the internet landscape. People are now talking about regulation, and big tech companies' influence on the law-making process, but it's clear that a lot of the character of the internet could be driven by choices these players make. They don't want to just make a good tool. They want to make sure the tool they make is used for good. By having a voice, and the institution letting their ideology be heard and acted on, they're offering something at the tippy-top of Maslow's heirarchy. They're offering a chance to make an important part of the world in their own image.
Of course, this is a complete pipe dream, at a place like Google – but the illusion is quite the selling point, isn't it? I figure you'd basically have to be pretty dedicated to your specific engineering problem to find a long-term place at Google. But it's also possible that you could be dedicated to the social position your technical skills give you access to.
Let's be aware of the army of power-tech players. They are far worse than "tech-bros" and hundreds of times worse than the ignorant Pointy Haired Boss from Dilbert. They understand precisely what they are doing, and for some reason, want to make every middle-manager role a power jockeying position. It's an unhealthy habit, and suffice it to say, it can exist at even small companies. I've seen it in places with less than 100 employees.
Can we just go back to being strange anoraks that people mocked? Maybe that'd be easier.