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The Google Archipelago
April 1, 2014 9:41 PM   Subscribe

Google has been in Ireland since 2003, and some former Google employees and contractors with significant experience at the company say that Google’s reputation as a great employer is undeserved. Permanent staff are well taken care of, they say, but even many permanent staff are overqualified, overworked, and perform relatively menial tasks. In addition, entire layers of hidden contractors and temporary workers do much of the work without the benefits or opportunities accorded permanent staff.
posted by gorbweaver (34 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads

Down the line, the algorithms will be able to do this work so they won’t need people to do it!

Our education system is set up to produce call centre workers rather than hotshot developers

I don't know what the future holds, exactly, but I suspect I won't be of much use to its shareholders.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:06 PM on April 1 [8 favorites]


I don't want to put down their reporting or the specific facts about Google in Ireland revealed here, but a lot of this is just standard procedure for the tech industry anywhere:

- "Cool benefits" are actually an attempt to make work the employee's entire life
- Fleets of contractors are used with no intent to ever hire them permanently
- The company wants mostly white males who went to the "right" schools

Let's hope that at least the next tech giant comes out and says right at the beginning, "This is our product, it's really cool, you'll love it, and it costs $5 a month." That way we could at least escape this cycle of more and more invasive advertising and data-mining, because when you start with "the internet is free mannnn" there's really no way to walk it back later, but you have to make money somehow.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:13 PM on April 1 [17 favorites]


Reserve army of labour: feature, not bug.
posted by Space Coyote at 10:25 PM on April 1 [2 favorites]


I could have sworn I read the same article about Google in California recently, with phrases like "PhDs in Computer Science spending their lives moderating YouTube comments." (That's not to say this isn't important, but that it isn't an Irish Google exposé.)
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 10:29 PM on April 1


When I saw Google and Ireland I immediately assumed the article was going to be about the company's unethical use of tax havens to avoid paying its fair share to governments all over the world. That crime lacks the face of a victim but is far more pernicious and concerning than being a shitty place to work imho.
posted by smoke at 11:42 PM on April 1 [12 favorites]


Let's hope that at least the next tech giant comes out and says right at the beginning, "This is our product, it's really cool, you'll love it, and it costs $5 a month." That way we could at least escape this cycle of more and more invasive advertising and data-mining
Except that simply charging for a service doesn't suddenly mean that there won't be datamining. Target shoppers buy actual physical products and their purchase behavior is subject to data mining.

This notion that simply because you gave a company money, they'll ignore the value of all that data they've collected is wrong and ultimately harmful if you want to reduce datamining at an individual level. It gives people the false sense that, as long as money is changing hands, then everything is fine.
posted by mulligan at 11:51 PM on April 1 [13 favorites]


Standard stuff indeed. Pretty much all the actual work in companies like this is done by contractors, whether they write the code or clean the toilets. If you want to go places in American capitalism, the first thing you need to do is to be a white male with an MBA and then get into 'management' rather than doing anything. I've worked at tech firms with 15 staff members, 12 of whom were 'managing' the other three. I'd imagine Google is the same, especially since the advertising media sales industry in which it operates doesn't require any skills anyway.
posted by colie at 12:23 AM on April 2 [2 favorites]


This notion that simply because you gave a company money, they'll ignore the value of all that data they've collected is wrong and ultimately harmful if you want to reduce datamining at an individual level. It gives people the false sense that, as long as money is changing hands, then everything is fine.

I think it's just a kneejerk reaction stemming from that whole "you're not the customer, you're the PRODUCT!!" soylent green type chestnut that gets tossed out every time this comes up.

The reality is, that the cat is pretty much forever out of the bag. The innocence is gone. EVERY company is datamining and doing hyper-targeting advertising now. And barring some privacy laws/regulations(and how would this even be enforced? how would this not just be bypassed with offshoring? especially if they aren't even accepting money directly from US users) which feel incredibly unlikely to ever happen, this is the New Future.

Not that this will stop some smart company from coming out and doing the "It's $5" thing and playing at shooting straight while they do all the same stuff but yea. I'm pretty much unwilling to believe any startup being able to resist either constructively or directly being arm-twisted into doing this stuff. Hell, that kind of info was like 100% of the value of WhatsApp, tumblr, and most other companies like that.

The cute, tron-y "I fight for the user!" company will stay that way until some investor who owns a major percentage forces them into doing the same crap as everyone else, or they fail.

I could have sworn I read the same article about Google in California recently

and i read it about(near) seattle.

I have friends who have similar experiences contracting at microsoft, too. This is just how it is at these companies that are sold as being "amazing places to work!"
posted by emptythought at 1:07 AM on April 2 [4 favorites]


The issue here is that these companies are NOT cool in any sense, other than cool as in how your kids might view the local drug dealer. Mostly they are Huggy Bear types. Quasi-criminal organisations that are neither good citizens, nor good neighbours.
posted by lilburne at 1:43 AM on April 2 [8 favorites]


That way we could at least escape this cycle of more and more invasive advertising and data-mining

By now some bright bulb must have written code that transparently encrypts and decrypts gmail on your desktop so Google (not to mention the NSA) never sees anything but gibberish when it scans the contents of your mail.
posted by pracowity at 2:16 AM on April 2


Doesn't matter. Metadata.
posted by panaceanot at 3:07 AM on April 2 [1 favorite]


Yeah, because Ireland is the place to go for cheap workers. Local subsidiaries of quirky and/or respected employers look quite different from their home offices. If you work for Apple in Ireland (once the home of PowerMac manufacture), you won't see many office elements that will remind you of Infinite Loop or an Apple store.

Cork is very far from Silicon Valley.
posted by pseudocode at 3:31 AM on April 2 [1 favorite]


When I saw Google and Ireland I immediately assumed the article was going to be about the company's unethical use of tax havens to avoid paying its fair share to governments all over the world. That crime lacks the face of a victim but is far more pernicious and concerning than being a shitty place to work imho.

Sure, but obviously that isn't so concerning for the Irish because they benefit from the tax instead.
posted by atrazine at 3:45 AM on April 2 [1 favorite]


"The reality is that you are bringing in people who are highly educated to Masters level and giving them entry level customer service jobs"

"PhDs in Computer Science spending their lives moderating YouTube comments"

The flipside of this is that it creates an environment where jobs that a great variety of people could do appear to require expensive advanced degrees. That fuels credentialism and tuition inflation, as people feel forced to swallow more and more debt and burn years of their lives to take on unnecessary certifications. And not just within the virtual walls of that company--it has an indirect effect on everyone.
posted by gimonca at 5:23 AM on April 2 [8 favorites]


So just did no one actually read The Gulag Archipelago or...
posted by shakespeherian at 5:45 AM on April 2 [4 favorites]


My issue with Google, Facebook and Twitter is that they don’t do any development in Ireland. People hear about all these tech companies coming in – and they do come with tech jobs, but they don’t facilitate or encourage development in Ireland.

A thousand yups.
posted by Damienmce at 6:06 AM on April 2


Clearly PhDs are really bad at moderating comments.
posted by ryanrs at 6:14 AM on April 2 [6 favorites]


these companies that are sold as being "amazing places to work!"

Well, thing is, they pretty much are, when compared to most traditional large US employers. I don't work for Google, but I've seen their employment offers and interviewed low level employees in the US & India.

Just to pick one example, they're willing to hire pregnant women and give them six months of fully paid maternity leave immediately rather than making them "qualify" by working there a year first. In the case I personally know of, that meant 3 months of working, followed by 6 months paid maternity leave -- this was not an executive-type person being hired, her title was simply "software engineer". Not even "senior software engineer" or the like. It wasn't even in Silicon Valley, but the local legal structures absolutely did not require this sort of thing -- they could have gotten away with just FMLA. Go mine AskMe to see how common this is, and what it does to the employment situations for women.

Fucking amazing compared to most US companies, who seem to aspire to be the biggest asshole on the block (on Wall Street I believe they still prefer the term "Big Swinging Dick" but my point stands). Hell, at Google there's a pretty fair chance my boss would know more about my job than I would (not that they'd employ me), which is also pretty amazing these days -- in firms like IBM, Motorola, and their ilk it's pretty standard to have about six layers of entirely tech-ignorant political-warfare bosses above the people who know how to do anything at all (and this is not accidental!) I don't even like Google as a company, but I have to admit they are head and shoulders above most large employers. Good god, just look at retailers.

Once upon a time I would have said that perhaps we should encourage more small employers, but to be blunt a lot of them are even worse (yay, wage theft!).

Now, granted, this says more about the fact that most employers are massive massive assholes and the legal system exists purely to encourage them (wherever they're located), but even so, compared to a staggering number of employers places like Google can seem almost like a socialist workers paradise (so to speak). Hell, PwC job ads in Vietnam have specifically required that women be attractive, unmarried, no children, and be well-dressed. Presumably because they're not really hiring business analysts, they're hiring arm-candy?
posted by aramaic at 6:23 AM on April 2 [5 favorites]


I'd love the salary and amenities of a Google-style job, but not the hours. And in terms of influencing expectations at other employers, I suspect it is the hours (and the credentialism) that get copied, not the conditions.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:42 AM on April 2


A big part of why Google is in Ireland is the Double Irish tax arrangement that secures favorable tax treatment of non-US revenue.
posted by Nelson at 6:43 AM on April 2


I've always thought the reason for the "twelve people 'managing' three people" structure was to allow employers to classify those "managers" as overtime-exempt salaried employees, even when most of their work is non-management-related. Is there any other reason for that structure?
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 6:44 AM on April 2


I've always thought the reason for the "twelve people 'managing' three people" structure was to allow employers to classify those "managers" as overtime-exempt salaried employees, even when most of their work is non-management-related. Is there any other reason for that structure?

Rules regarding who is and who is not entitled to overtime are so laxly enforced that they might as well not exist, so I doubt that this is the reason.
posted by atrazine at 7:56 AM on April 2


I've worked in tech and advertising for 20 years as a contractor and full-time employee and I've never once heard mention of a system of payment for 'overtime.'
posted by colie at 8:04 AM on April 2 [2 favorites]


Capitalism in the Twenty-first Century is now available.

This review is amazingly good and I cannot wait to read Pikkety's book. If I wasn't too old I would be looking to join a revolution.
posted by bukvich at 8:09 AM on April 2 [2 favorites]


You know, I was up in the middle of the night reading this, and the entire edifice of office work, even relatively privileged work like writing computer code, started to seem to me like some kind of really stylized, weird, S&M ritual, except that no one gets off. Probably I got the idea from Pynchon ("this is sado-anarchism").
posted by thelonius at 8:37 AM on April 2 [4 favorites]


So just did no one actually read The Gulag Archipelago or...

No, but I got the allusion, and slotted it into the "cute pun wins over appropriateness" category.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:51 AM on April 2 [1 favorite]


I've always thought the reason for the "twelve people 'managing' three people" structure was to allow employers to classify those "managers" as overtime-exempt salaried employees, even when most of their work is non-management-related. Is there any other reason for that structure?

There are plenty of FLSA exemptions other than for management.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:43 AM on April 2


As someone who has been unemployed for four months and is about to start a contract gig (first time doing contract work) at a local Fortune 500 company I'm not getting warm and fuzzies. Then again, I'll be FSLA Non-Exempt so I will get overtime (but zero PTO or paid holidays).

There are plenty of FLSA exemptions other than for management.
Radio station employees in small markets - OT Television station employees in small markets - OT
Why would small market radio and tv employees not be entitled to overtime?
posted by MikeMc at 2:36 PM on April 2


- The company wants mostly white males who went to the "right" schools-- drjimmy11

Where did you get this idea from? Do you have a cite? Because I sincerely doubt it. I don't know about Ireland or even Google in general, but Silicon Valley is one of the most diverse places in the country. Some of this may be because of H-1B visas that some say are sometimes used so that they can keep salaries down (even though the rules of the visa technically forbid this), so that often the last people to get hired are the 'mostly white males'. But in general I think it is to get talent wherever it can be found.
posted by eye of newt at 9:28 PM on April 2


Permanent staff are well taken care of, they say, but even many permanent staff are overqualified, overworked, and perform relatively menial tasks. In addition, entire layers of hidden contractors and temporary workers do much of the work without the benefits or opportunities accorded permanent staff.

Just popping in to add to the chorus of those saying that this is pretty much standard practice; at least it has been at every major company I've ever worked at in both the USA & Europe over the last 10+ years. Except maybe for the "permanent staff are well taken care of" part.
posted by ladybird at 2:02 AM on April 3 [1 favorite]


I've worked in tech and advertising for 20 years as a contractor and full-time employee and I've never once heard mention of a system of payment for 'overtime.'

My history is similar (8 years in advertising, 20 or so total in tech, a bit less than half of that as a contractor). The closest I ever came to 'overtime' was that in many of my contracting gigs (and of course all of my freelance gigs), if I had authorization to work beyond 40 hours, I got paid straight time for it. Not all of them, though: I worked for a total of about 2 years on contract gigs where I was a full-time salaried employee of the consulting firm, and wasn't compensated for time in excess of 40.
posted by lodurr at 8:30 AM on April 8


smoke:.... the company's unethical use of tax havens to avoid paying its fair share to governments all over the world. That crime lacks the face of a victim but is far more pernicious and concerning than being a shitty place to work imho.

IMHO they're not really separable. Both spring from the same root, and ultimately bear the same fruit.
posted by lodurr at 8:34 AM on April 8


You Can't Tip a Buick:...the "twelve people 'managing' three people" structure.... Is there any other reason for that structure?

Sure: Cost accounting.

If you do the math right (i.e., rationalize your staffing decisions in accord with your budgetary requirements -- which is not the same as reducing overall cost), you can for example make increased expenditure on contractors look like a cost savings, and this happens all over the place. I've seen and heard of it a lot in types of business that approach cost accounting from a billing perspective, like ad agencies, consulting firms, accounting firms, and the like.

I can speak from experience about how this often works in advertising. Many small-to-medium-sized ad agencies can't keep a web developer billable at the level that's recommended as "industry standard" (our management told us this was about 87%). Since ad agencies in that size range rarely have IT staff, a web developer is typically nevertheless kept quite busy -- but they're doing things that, while they need to be done, don't leave an obvious hole if they're not. (Didn't apply security patches to the webservers? Not like they'll stop running or something.) So if you lay off a web developer on Friday and then bring them back in the door the next Monday as a contractor at a billing rate about 3 times what their salary averaged out to (which is a standard ad industry practice, usually hand-in-hand with a fictional discharge reason of 'lack of work' and often accompanied by severance), you can still get a net decrease in personnel cost because you've eliminated expense lines for benefits and have stopped paying for that person to do all the stuff you weren't able to pass on as cost to your clients.*

A specific example: I got laid off about 2 months ago from an ad agency. Since that time I've worked the equivalent of about a week for them, and billed them for about threeweeks worth of pay. They rationalize this as making sense because they were able to theoretically displace a lot of what I used to do for them onto other FT salaried workers. It's possible the math doesn't work out too well in this particular case because I won't be able to continue working freelance for them (I'm not going to make myself crazy while I learn the ropes at my new full-time job) and they don't really have a resource who can do what I do, as efficiently as I can (since I know their systems). But management always approaches these calculations on best-case assumptions. And in any case, I suspect the real reason for the layoffs (they laid off the three oldest & most-senior non-management people in design, tech and accounts, respectively) was to make the overall billability numbers look better to potential merger partners. (Hm, does saying that violate my non-disparagement clause?)

[edited to correct some math]

--
*This was a continual struggle in my advertising time: to find a way to pass along normal operating cost as client cost. Need to maintain your webserver? Find a way to make that client-billable. Never spend time doing basic research on a subject unless you can bill it to a job number. Etc.
posted by lodurr at 9:02 AM on April 8


MikeMc: Why would small market radio and tv employees not be entitled to overtime?

Do you mean 'would' or 'should'? Because the answer to 'would' is 'because their lobbying organization wants it that way.' (The answer to 'should' IMO is "they shouldn't.")
posted by lodurr at 9:04 AM on April 8


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