Is Google a Cult?

Fired Google engineer James Damore, author of the infamous internal Google anti-diversity memo, and currently basking in the warm, apparently mutual embrace of the Nazi alt-right, seems to now be making something of a career out of spewing anti-Google propaganda, especially via right-wing media venues.

Amidst the accumulating pile of garbage claims that’s he’s been making, one in particular caught my eye, his statement that Google is “almost like a cult.”

My original tongue-in-cheek response to that bizarre comment was to suggest that the only “cult” I’ve seen inside Google is the “cult of coffee” — it could be argued that Google runs on equal parts of electricity, brains, and a vast river of that miracle brew. That’s a cult that I enthusiastically endorse!

But this really isn’t funny, and one has to wonder how Damore’s twisted view of Google actually developed.

One clue is that he was hired into Google directly from Harvard, where his behavior had apparently already forced the administration to publicly apologize for his sexist antics. So he presumably had no real experience inside the cultures of other major firms, and so no personal data points for realistic comparisons.

As the “old guy” in the room, I have the advantage of having seen the inner workings of a variety of technology and other firms over a significant span of years, with AT&T Bell Labs and Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) in their heydays being perhaps the most relevant in this context.

I consulted to Google a few years ago for a considerable span, in an “embedded” mode that gave me access to the vast majority of internal resources that are available to full-time employees, and naturally I’ve interacted with significant numbers of Googlers (Google employees) at various levels, so I feel fairly confident about my understanding of Google’s culture.

Google is not a cult.

Google in fact has the healthiest overall internal corporate culture in my experience, an open internal culture that indeed encourages robust discussion to a degree that I’ve never seen at other large firms.

This is not only important for Google, it’s crucial to Google’s users as well.

During my time inside Google, I witnessed (and in fact participated in) discussions regarding various controversial internal issues, the ultimate results of which were very much positive for Google’s users. Were some of these discussions a bit heated at times? Sure, we’re dealing with human beings with human emotions, not robots.

But — and this is crucial — they were always respectful, not just in keeping with Google’s rules for employee conduct, but as should be the case for all corporate discussions, anywhere and everywhere.

And this is where Damore went seriously astray. His sexist “manifesto” was couched in the same sort of fake science, pseudo-statistical arguments and jargon long used by racists in their propagandistic efforts to belittle and berate blacks. We’ve seen it all before. It’s as ludicrous now as it was then.

Yet that’s not even the half of it. Much more than simply scientifically bogus, Damore’s screed was broadly and accurately interpreted inside Google as a barely veiled threat against women at Google, a toxic attempt to “push them back into their place” and poison their abilities to work with men on teams going forward. Whether or not this was actually Damore’s intent is impossible to judge with certainty, but the damage was done, and even the naivete of the young is not an excuse for this kind of attack. His utterly unrepentant stance toward the events leading to his firing at least strongly suggests that this was exactly his intention, however.

Damore is apparently not without his supporters inside Google — the leaking of internal Google discussions and the subsequent targeting of innocent Googlers by the Nazi alt-right is clear enough evidence of that. In any large organization today, you’re bound to have at least a few employees willing to try poison a culture toward the furtherance of their own hateful political motives.

But the vast, overwhelming majority of Googlers are immensely proud of Google, and they have every right to¬†be. And I believe that they will assure that Google’s open internal culture will survive Damore and the attacks against Google that he has inspired.

That’s very good news for Googlers, and for Google users like you and me.


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