Early Google Hire Tells All

Doug Edwards discusses his new memoir, exorcism, and his life as an English major among engineers

Adweek: You left Google after its IPO in 2005. Why publish your book [I’m Feeling Lucky: Confessions of Google Employee Number 59] now?

I kind of went back and forth on it. But after a couple of years, I just kept bumping into Google everywhere. I kept seeing the logo, I kept using it, I kept finding it mentioned in movies. And I had all of this background information in my head about how Google came to be and I just felt like I would never get it out my head until I actually put it on paper. It was somewhat therapeutic. An exorcism perhaps.

You came to Google as an English major among engineers. You left as the “voice” of the company. How did it change you?
Google really put an emphasis on not just solving the problem that was immediately in front of you but solving something that was larger and a step beyond. It also made me a lot more impatient with the world. The emphasis on speed and productivity and solving problems makes you realize just how many things could be better if people just put a little bit more effort into them in our daily lives.

What do you consider to be your biggest contribution to Google?
I think overall my role in giving Google more of a human voice and making it more than just a collection of software and hardware. And I don’t take full credit for that—clearly, Larry and Sergey were the ones whose voice I was channeling. But giving that expression and helping Google communicate with its users in a way that was not intimidating and made it very approachable was the greatest value I added.

Have you ever regretted leaving?
No. I left in 2005 and, pretty much every day, I’m happy to have my time belonging to me. [But] the first Monday after I left, I kind of woke up in a panic. I’m like, “Oh my god, what do I do?” But that passed. It took about two years to fully decompress.

What do you think about Google+? Is it going to give Facebook a run for its money?
Facebook has 500 million users and Google+ has maybe 10 million. I think it’s going to be a long war. It’s going to take a long time and I don’t think Facebook will stand still.

What is the company’s biggest challenge going forward?
I think the complexity of the problems they need to engage is increasing. I think Google has come to rely on technology as the answer to everything and they tried that with China and it didn’t work. And so I think the company is trying to develop a more comprehensive set of tools for dealing with their interactions with the world. And that is difficult for them.

In describing the pre-IPO period at Google, you say at one point that hubris could be the company’s downfall. Still think that?
You need a certain amount of self-confidence and belief in yourself to accomplish anything significant. On the other hand, if you reach too far, if you fly too close to the sun, bad things happen. If you look at the fatal flaws in classic literature, you can’t separate the hero from that element of their personality. I think the company has been somewhat chastened by their interactions with the outside world, but I don’t think they have been so chastened that they won’t continue to do big things and step on some toes in the process.

Miss anything about the company?
It really was a unique environment. Every time I spoke with somebody, I learned something. I was constantly learning without really having to try too hard. And I miss the food.