Google's Unkindest Cut: Tech SupportS

In October, before Google's cost-cutting campaign began in earnest, the company had more than 10,000 contractors, founder Sergey Brin said. In a mid-December SEC filing, it reported only 4,300 temporary workers.

Where did the other 6,000 go? The 4,300 were only a "subset" of the 10,000 contractors Brin cited, a spokeswoman told the Associated Press, implying that the cuts were not as heavy as the numbers might suggest. But in the filing, they were described as "temps, interns, contractors, and vendors" — a more expansive category, not a less inclusive one.

How classically Google, which seeks to make all the information in the world easily accessible — except when it has to do with Google's own business.

Whatever the numbers, Valleywag tipsters have consistently told us of heavy cuts. Deep Fried, a source within Google's kitchens, told us last fall of the unprecedented closure of one of Google's free-food emporiums, a cornerstone of Google's culture of employee perks.

And now, another perk — on-site technical support — is getting slashed to almost nothing. Our source writes:

I got laid off from google’s internal helpdesk a few months back; now I’m watching my google talk list drop one by one while a colleague there gives a play by play. Apparently the vendor is cutting costs (at Google’s request per my previous boss) by axing most of my friends in the mountain view call center (tech stop now). When I was there there were 24 people, three of us were axed when I left, two more people have quit in the interim but weren’t replaced in headcount. As of this writing, five of best techs have been escorted out – mostly the ones working way below what they were worth to keep their jobs alongside the Hyderabad call center.

Keep in mind that I love Google, Inc. and I think they’re trying their best to survive a shitty, shitty market without their employees getting hit too hard or looking weak in the press. It’s the vendors and contractors that are sweating bullets, since Google can only go to them and say “reduce your cost by X” and most of the vendors bend over backwards to keep the contract rather than negotiate. To illustrate how far backwards they’re willing to bend, all the layoffs from SlashSupport have been chosen soley by HR, with no input from the supervisors or leads. Google said “we can no longer pay for this amount of headcount,” and the knee-jerk reaction was to fire the people that the Slash HR person disliked the most. Slash HR never even set foot on the mountain view campus until they turned up with a stack of pink slips already filled out. Google can’t do anything about it aside from threaten to not renew the contract.

Tech Stop Now, the telephone helpdesk, is operated by SlashSupport. It looks like this is being gutted down to a skeleton crew before the contract is up for renewal in April; they probably intend to move the whole thing to the Hyderabad help desk, who are quite a bit cheaper to operate. Either that or Slash knows the contract is dead and they’re taking the opportunity to trim the fat so it’s cheaper when they have to give severance to the remaining eleven mountain view techs.

Yes, this means that from 9am to 6pm pacific, only eleven people at maximum are available to field tech support calls from across every Google office in the world. Estimates are that at least 50 issues a day will go unhandled and be passed off to the Hyderabad help desk. Used to be zero.

TSA – Tech Stop, the guys who sit in the rooms that are in almost every building and get to watch Futurama on a projector while they fix hardware that’s brought to them. TSA means alternately Tech Stop Associate or Tech Stop Astreya, as Astreya is the vendor for them. I am getting word today that TSAs are also getting reamed.

Who's being spared? For now, the elite tech-support crews on staff at Google, who fall into two groups:

FT – Field techs. Full time google employees. TSN and TSA escalate to these guys if it is something to do with confidential information,* needs someone with admin privileges beyond what TSN/TSA has, or something that really, really needs someone at the desk that is unencumbered with vendor NDAs about intellectual property. FTs also do a fair bit of coding and engineering, but as much as I think my SlashSupport NDA is garbage, Google’s is a lot more frightening :)

There are also xtechs, who are dedicated field techs that serve JUST the executives, but I’ve only ever seen one of them in person. Executives never came to Saladoplex where most of IT was quarantined to avoid offending visitors to the main iplex.

The Saladoplex is a cluster of offices across a parkway from Google's main campus. Heard more about contractor cuts at Google? Send in your tips.

Update: A tech-support contractor writes:

I too was laid off by SlashSupport, the helpdesk vendor. I was laid off on Monday, 7 of the remaining 16 of us were cut - That's a 43.75% cut. However, our whole team was also asked for resumes for a possible 6-7 conversions to FieldTechs, indicating that Google may be trying to retain the best of us. Many of those who remain in the helpdesk are not Google-quality, and all 7 of those of us laid off had had some sort of disagreement with Slash's HR manager, so we're certain that the selections were retaliatory in nature.

The move by Google to keep some tech-support staff is noble, if odd, since the search giant has an unofficial hiring freeze on. It speaks to the kind of tensions that exist between Google and contract firms like SlashSupport.

(Photo by Getty Images)