Former Googler pulls back the curtain on a bureaucratic ‘maze’—and lambastes bosses and employees for losing sight of what’s important

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Google is a “once-great company” that has “slowly ceased to function” thanks to its bureaucratic “maze.”

Those strong words come courtesy of Praveen Seshadri, a former Google software engineer who shared his thoughts about the tech giant this week in a lengthy essay on Medium. Seshadri joined Google after it acquired AppSheet, a startup he co-founded, in early 2020. He left the company last month, according to his LinkedIn profile.

In his essay, Seshadri criticizes Google’s bosses and employees alike for losing sight of what’s important—namely, the user. While “respect the user” remains a core Google value, Seshadri writes, in practice “risk mitigation trumps everything else.” 

It’s understandable, he concedes, given that everything at Google has gone “wonderfully” for years thanks to a “money-printing machine called ‘Ads’ that has kept growing relentlessly every year, hiding all other sins.”

The problem, according to Seshadri, is that Google employees don’t go to work each day thinking they serve users or customers. Instead, they serve something internal to Google, be it a process, a technology, a manager, or other employees. 

“Working extra hard or extra smart,” he writes, “doesn’t create any fundamental new value in such a world.”

If the focus were on value creation, he contends, it would “change the equation” at Google. Instead, the focus is on potential risk, which is seen in “every line code you change” and “anything you launch,” resulting in layer upon layer of processes, reviews, and approvals. 

In terms of career development within Google, he writes, “any disagreement with the management chain is career risk, so always say yes to the VP, and the VP says yes to the senior VP, all the way up.”

For Google, Seshadri’s essay comes at a sensitive time. Last week, shares of parent company Alphabet tumbled after Google shared a video demonstrating its upcoming service Bard, an artificial intelligence chatbot similar to OpenAI’s ChatGPT. In the video, Bard delivered an inaccurate response to a question about the James Webb Space Telescope.

Microsoft has invested heavily in OpenAI, and earlier this month it launched an upgraded version of its Bing search engine that offers ChatGPT-like responses in addition to traditional search results. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella told The Verge this month that while Google is still the “800-pound gorilla,” he hopes his company’s A.I. moves will make his rival “come out and show that they can dance.”

Google employees took to an internal forum to criticize company leaders, including CEO Sundar Pichai, for what they described as a rushed, botched job of announcing Bard, CNBC reported.

Amid such dissatisfaction, employees recently received a reminder of the company’s earliest days as a scrappy startup. Susan Wojcicki announced Thursday that she’s retiring from her role as CEO of Google’s YouTube. In 1998, Wojcicki rented her garage to Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin as a place where they could work on their nascent search engine project. She then joined the company and played key roles in its rapid rise. 

Few doubt that Google in those early years exceeded all expectations. But today, Seshadri argues in his essay, there is a “collective delusion” within Google that the company is still exceptional, when in fact most people quietly complain about the overall inefficiency.

As a Google employee, “you don’t wake up everyday thinking about how you should be doing better and how your customers deserve better and how you could be working better,” he writes. “Instead, you believe that things you are doing already are so perfect that they are the only way to do it.”

If he’s right, with many believing ChatGPT or similar tools will eventually challenge Google’s search dominance, that may no longer be enough.

Google did not immediately respond to Fortune’s request for comment. 

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