Unemployed techies, take heart: At least your soul isn't being shredded by an awful job. It sounds like that's the case with Macintosh co-inventor Andy Hertzfeld, who says acclaimed employer Google has smothered him and drained him of creative joy.
Hertzfeld was part of the original design team for the Apple Macintosh, co-authoring the crucial "QuickDraw" graphics system and later building tools to make open-source software easier to use. He's been at Google since 2005, and it sounds like he'd disagree with Fortune's ranking of it as the world's fourth-best employer. When Wired's Steve Levy asked Hertzfeld about the "rigid standards and processes" at Google for a cover story on hacker culture (
not online now online), Hertfeld said of the company,
I can't exercise my creativity in a way that gives me joy, which is my basic approach... My relationship to my work is that of an artist to his work.
Ouch. Hertzfeld did go on to say his code can have a "big impact" on the world because of Google's size, but that only applies to the innovations he can get through all the internal barriers at Google, like a system he created for grouping Google News search results. And the company is, as we've written before, big on barriers: Not only is it very tricky for even geniuses to get hired, but there are also barriers to working once you've arived. Legendary programmer Ken Thompson, for example, was required to prove his mettle at a programming language he himself co-invented before Google would deploy his programs. He never bothered, at least not by the time the book Coders at Work was published:
Peter Seibel: I know Google has a policy where every new employee has to get checked out on languages before they're allowed to check code in. Which means you had to get checked out on C [which you co-created].
Thompson: Yeah, I haven't been.
Seibel: You haven't been! You're not allowed to check in code?
Thompson: I'm not allowed to check in code, no... I just haven't done it. I've so far found no need to.
Thompson has since invented an entire programming language for Google called Go, so the company did come around to trusting at least some of his code. But based on Hertzfeld's experience, it sounds like the company, despite swaddling employees in nice perks, has more tweaking to do before it lives up to its goal of become the preferred workplace of "the world's best engineers."
(Updated: Added link to the story, which is now online.)