Thursday, February 16, 2012

Google, Three Months In

February 14th, Valentine's Day, marked the three month point for me here at Google. I thought I would take a moment to share my observations and experiences now that I've been here a little while on what it's like to work here and what it is we're doing.

I joined Google to work on Chrome – the browser, the Chrome Web Store, the Chrome platform, ChromeOS / Chromebooks, etc. One of Google's core missions is to move the web forward, and Chrome is a very important part of that mission. Over the last three months, I've talked to dozens of partners about building and monetizing their Web applications for the Chrome Web Store, built a couple of apps and extensions myself (more on that in future posts), worked with exciting new HTML5 features that change the very nature of what you can do with a browser, and helped continue to plan and build out new ways of delivering rich experiences using Web technologies.

Here are some of the things I've noticed and learned along the way here at Google so far:

1. Chrome has become much more than a browser

Chrome has really come a very long way since I first started using it a few years ago. Not only has it become the world's second most used browser, but it's really redefined how I do my work at a fundamental level. During a typical work day, I rarely find myself having to go outside of Chrome to get my work done. I create, edit, and share documents and spreadsheets with co-workers, organize my daily to-do lists, conduct and manage research, videoconference and chat with colleagues and partners, listen and respond to voicemail, and much more – all from within Chrome. I don't even have a desk phone here at Google. Seriously. I just don't need one.

What has made all this possible is that Chrome, in all its forms – along with the Web itself – has become an extremely powerful platform. The underlying technologies like HTML5, the V8 engine, Native Client (NaCl), etc. have enabled apps that just a few years ago (heck, even a few months ago) weren't possible. You even write Chrome extensions and applications using the same HTML5 and JavaScript that you would use to create a site, and they just work across OSes. All you need to do is visit the Chrome Web Store to see what the result has been – there's been a veritable explosion of creativity in the kinds of things you can now use a browser for.

2. The short ship cycle has become a very virtuous one

I have to admit that a few years ago I was initially skeptical of the whole 6-week release cycle and auto-update policy that Chrome follows, but seeing it in action has erased all of my doubts.

The short development cycle enables new technologies to be introduced and integrated in a way that is predictable and usable for developers, starting with the Canary build, then the dev channel, then into the stable build. Developers can try these features out, get them integrated into their apps, and get those new features into the hands of users faster than ever before, thanks to the auto-update.

These apps can then use real-time analytics and performance measuring feedback to help developers fine-tune their code and find and fix errors faster than ever before, as well as deliver new features with a higher precision of knowledge of how they'll actually be used. This results in far more stable, consistent, and feature-rich applications for customers, and the cycle then repeats.

When I first started working as a software engineer 20 years ago (wow!) on shrink-wrapped packaged software, products and update patches were delivered on floppies directly to end users, who (hopefully) manually installed them. Some did, some didn't, so you never had a good idea how consistent your product codebase was out in the wild. It was also a huge bottleneck on getting updates out to customers – since shipping floppies (and later CDs) was expensive, you needed to gather as many updates as you could into a batch before sending them out to minimize costs.

Short ship cycles, along with auto-update and distribution over the Web, have largely eliminated these kinds of bottlenecks. The amount of time lapse between the introduction of new features into Chrome and when they get into users' hands has been greatly compressed.

3. Web developers are true developers in every sense of the word

I was one of the original Dreamweaver developers at Macromedia back in the 90s, and back in the early days of the Web I began to notice that the term “developers” got applied to people who used “real” languages like C, C++ and Java. Coders that used other languages, like JavaScript and VBScript were derisively referred to as “script kiddies” - in other words, people who made cute little animations  like image rollovers and did form validation logic, but not much else.

Fast forward to today, and I don't hear that term used much anymore. There are many reasons for this, but some of the big ones in my estimation are:

  1. The sheer scale of what is now possible in a modern Web application requires a lot of traditional engineering discipline knowledge and computer science theory,
  2. JavaScript itself has come a long way since its humble beginnings, and even though there are still some shortcomings, it has evolved into a very powerful language,
  3. Scripting languages have been embraced by industry titans like Google who have created some pretty impressive apps.
As a result, JavaScript developers are demanding many of the same tools and platform capabilities that more traditional developers have had for many years now. Chrome strives to provide these developers with the tools and platform they need to build the next and future generations of Web apps.

The last three months here at Google have been absolutely exhilarating – it's great to see the excitement around Chrome, Web apps, and the Web store. In the short time I've ben here so far, I've been amazed at the level of effort the Chrome team puts out to create a world-class browser and platform. I feel honored and privileged to be part of such a great team, and I'm really looking forward to helping Chrome move the web forward and redefining what's possible with Web applications.

1 comment:

  1. 4 script kiddies is now used for me-too viru-kit 'developers' ;-)