The end

February 22, 2012

No posts for six months! I have some reasons.

I started at Google in 2004. When I was hired they asked me to describe in broad terms what I wanted to work on. I remember writing back: "I've read rumors of Google working on a Linux-based operating system, which would be a perfect match for my skills and interests. Failing that, I studied linguistics so something involving language would be nice." My friend Tessa (also newly hired) and I drove down to Silicon Valley together.

I ended up in search ranking (with Tessa, even in the same office at first) for a few years. It was the experience I came to Google for: helping people smarter than me write mapreduces over terabytes to compute tricky math over language (much of my time on this project). But when I learned Google was finally working on the long-rumored browser I knew it was the project for me, to make a browser for Linux that was awesome.

We did just that. Some years passed and now somewhere near one in five people on the internet use Chrome. (With a rounding error's fraction of them on Linux, but it is my rounding error.) I learned so much about so many things, from software engineering to graphics performance to binary internals.

But I also learned that most complaints you ever read about making software for desktop Linux are correct. Before we'd jokingly say "year of Linux on the desktop!" and laugh about how it would never happen, but my smiles had become bitter. A short way to put it is that writing high-quality software is not really a goal of the platform; stuff that doesn't matter like continuously rewriting atop ever-changing platforms is. The scrappiness and free software spirit is what makes me love Linux as a hacker but I recognize now a deeper doom, that it will only ever broadly succeed by removing that spirit (e.g. Android). Maybe another way of saying all this is that I grew up.

The Chrome team grew up, too. My fondest memory of Chrome is when we started our San Francisco office, five of us crammed into a three person room and hacking at full speed. (At one point the first page of our now 95-page ohloh leaderboard was our office plus the Linux guys to the south.) But visit now and observe the many configurations; visit chromium-dev now and witness tens of opinions on trivial matters; try to build Chrome now and discover you need to download literally gigabytes of source.

Those are challenges, sure, but I found I was taking them personally. I was too personally invested in the project. I gradually became a grumpy, complainy person, the sort I wouldn't like to work with. I took a three month sabbatical, came back, and found I still felt the same way. With time to reflect I wonder if the way I want to work is simply incompatible with a large team.

And so I'm moving on, to a smaller team. Coincidentally, Tessa's team. If you want to follow my future endeavors you can read my other blog.