Thursday, December 20, 2007

Where most projects fail is Google's strength

I've been thinking about scale a lot of late. I can't tell you the number of nifty little pieces of software that I've seen over the years, where people thought they'd stumbled upon the holy grail, only to fail miserably. In almost every situation the failure was people's inability to understand what it takes for something to scale. People don't ask themselves the single most important question. It's right here in the latest Newsweek: Google and the Wisdom of Clouds

One simple question. That's all it took for Christophe Bisciglia to bewilder confident job applicants at Google (GOOG). Bisciglia, an angular 27-year-old senior software engineer with long wavy hair, wanted to see if these undergrads were ready to think like Googlers. "Tell me," he'd say, "what would you do if you had 1,000 times more data?"

What a strange idea. If they returned to their school projects and were foolish enough to cram formulas with a thousand times more details about shopping or maps or—heaven forbid—with video files, they'd slow their college servers to a crawl.

At that point in the interview, Bisciglia would explain his question. To thrive at Google, he told them, they would have to learn to work—and to dream—on a vastly larger scale.

Yep, great question. Very few people think of the consequences of success. I will be discussing this some more over the next couple of weeks.

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