CloudCloud ManagementMarketingWorkspace

Former Director Criticises Google’s Lack Of Innovation

Tom Brewster is TechWeek Europe's Security Correspondent. He has also been named BT Information Security Journalist of the Year in 2012 and 2013.

Former Google man says he wasn’t happy under CEO Larry Page’s rule

Former Google director of engineering James Whittaker has vented his frustrations about working under Larry Page, claiming the company had changed into an advertising-driven behemoth under the co-founder’s direction.

Whittaker, who is now an executive at rival Microsoft, said he spent his final three months at the company in “a whirlwind of desperation, trying in vain to get my passion back.”

A ‘single corporate-mandated focus’

“The Google I was passionate about was a technology company that empowered its employees to innovate. The Google I left was an advertising company with a single corporate-mandated focus,” Whittaker said in a blog post.

“Technically I suppose Google has always been an advertising company, but for the better part of the last three years, it didn’t feel like one. Google was an ad company only in the sense that a good TV show is an ad company: having great content attracts advertisers.”

Life under Eric Schmidt, who was replaced by Larry Page as CEO last year, was less driven by ads, Whittaker said. The “innovation factory” of Schmidt’s tenure empower workers to come up with ideas with peer bonuses and a 20 percent time allowance to do what they wanted, he said.

However, as Facebook became more of a rival for Google, things changed, according to the Microsoft man. He claimed Google felt wronged when big marketing deals, like one with Nike, went to Facebook.

“No company has ever done that for Google and Google took it personally. Larry Page himself assumed command to right this wrong,” Whittaker added. “Social became state-owned, a corporate mandate called Google+. It was an ominous name invoking the feeling that Google alone wasn’t enough.

“The days of old Google hiring smart people and empowering them to invent the future was gone. The new Google knew beyond doubt what the future should look like. Employees had gotten it wrong and corporate intervention would set it right again.”

Whittaker said Google+ never really took off, adding it was “arguable that we made Facebook better.”

At the time of publication, Google had not responded to a request for comment.

When Page took control of the company he helped found, many feared he would be too innovation-driven, rather than pander to boardroom wants. Google disappointed with results in January, largely due to declining search advertising rates. As for Google+, it saw a spike in users at the end of last year, indicating it is seeing fast growth.

Think you know all of Google’s secrets? Test out your knowledge with our quiz.