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Review: I’m Feeling Lucky, Douglas Edwards

i'm feeling luckyGoogle employee number 59, Douglas Edwards got a job when the company was still very small, had no financial model, but for some reason appealed to him. A veteran marketer for newspapers, Edwards took a pay cut to satisfy his desire to work at a start-up after turning down a job at Yahoo!. Though the story is through Edwards’ eyes, it’s really a tale of Google from start-up to corporation, a truly tumultuous ride and a whirlwind expansion as the company that now seems determined to plant itself all over the internet first found its footing as a successful search engine.

I still remember the first time I was taught to use a search engine at school. It was AltaVista, which according to my teachers was the best at the time. I no longer remember when I switched to Google, but it certainly wasn’t long afterwards, and I’ve been a fan ever since; I now have an Android, couldn’t live without Google Reader, and use Google Chrome, Gmail, Google Calendar, and many other Googley products. You can look at a timeline displaying how Google used to look here. I now work directly with things that relate to Google and Matt Cutts is a name bandied about at work on a daily basis. So an insight into the beginning of Google was instantly appealing to me, and the book lived up to its promise in many ways.

Douglas Edwards was the first director of consumer marketing and brand management at Google for six years during its start-up phase. It was his voice that represented Google to us on the internet up until 2005. Really the only problem with the book is that it doesn’t take us up to the present day! Edwards talks about the origin of products that are now very familiar to us, the insider struggles over new products, and the way Google rushed to scale as more and more opportunities were tossed their way.

I had no idea that Google used to update its index once a month, if that – the index is updated constantly these days.  I never knew anything about server farms or the way Gmail actually developed. And I’d only had a small idea of the competition Google faced in search, which was widely regarded as a full playing field, and how it finally developed the monetization model which is so successful. Some of the other options are truly atrocious and I found it very easy to see why AdWords was and is so very successful.

What was most interesting to me, and probably will be to others, was Google’s start-up culture and merge into corporate culture. We’ve all heard about the amazing food and perks offered to Googlers, seemingly in an attempt to make sure they never left the office. And indeed they rarely did; Edwards discusses emails sent at 3 am as the company took on employees with advanced degrees but little to no actual life outside of Google. It always sounds appealing to have every meal for free and to have 20% time devoted to whatever one would like, but it’s easy to forget that those are in exchange for hours of overtime and devotion to Google above most other things in life. Edwards left when the company’s flat start-up hierarchy had turned into a true company’s hierarchy. I did feel at times that the book struggled to decide whether it was a history of Google or a history of Edwards within Google, but I appreciated all of the information.

I really enjoyed this insight into Google and even the character of the author himself, who does come through the pages clearly. As a meld of business history and memoir, I’m Feeling Lucky is a worthwhile read for anyone who is at all interested in Google.

All book links to external sites are affiliate links. I received this book for free for review from the publisher.

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