Q&A With Google’s Don Dodge

Jason’s Nexus One Giveaway inspired me to reach out to Don Dodge (TWiST #7 guest), Developer Advocate at Google , to answer a few questions about his move from Microsoft to Google, the Nexus One and Startup advice and Google Venture.

Google vs. Microsoft Experience:

Did you have to move or do you travel and work from home?

I will eventually move back to Silicon Valley, probably in the next 4 months. For now I am bouncing between Boston and Silicon Valley staying a few weeks at a time. I lived in California during the 90’s so this isn’t a big move for me.

Now that you have been at Google for 3 months, what is the one big difference you didn’t expect at Google but were happily surprised?

It has only been two months today, but there really haven’t been any big surprises. The job at Google is very similar to what I was doing at Microsoft. I already knew lots of people at Google and knew a lot about their culture so it has been a pretty easy transition.

Vibe – Google is a high energy environment. Lots of smart people with big ideas. Everything is data driven. Decisions are made based on data that has been analyzed, and going forward everything is monitored and measured based on the data. Opinions and “gut feel” are considered too, but in the end, results are measured by data. Even things like travel expense caps for airfares and hotels are data driven. They keep track of every trip taken and the actual costs for airfares and hotels, then establish the caps based on the data.

The Google campus is beautiful, funky, and efficient. There are bicycles everywhere for people to use to get between buildings. In some ways it feels like a college campus, but the intensity level is much higher. Most people sit in open cubes with four or more people in a pod. Offices with doors typically have 2 or 3 people in them. People work in groups and there is a real sense of teamwork everywhere you look.

Perks – Free breakfast, lunch, and dinner in the gourmet cafes in each building. The food is awesome!! The 401K match is 50% of your contribution up to $8,250. Health plan is pretty good, but not as good as Microsoft’s plan. MSFT pays for everything, no co-pays, no deductibles. Google really caters to employees needs. Onsite dry cleaning service, car washes, Oil changes, ATM, Fitness Centers, Haircuts, Massage, and Concierge services.

Meetings – 30 minutes is the standard, start on time and end early if possible. Video Conferences are pretty standard since the company is geographically distributed. Nearly every conference room has video conference equipment. Everyone uses Google Docs to capture meeting notes, a true example of real time collaboration.

Gmail – The Gmail you all use as consumers is the same email all Google employees use internally. Threaded conversations are a HUGE time saver and help keep things organized. I didn’t really appreciate that feature until my departure from Microsoft when my email inbox was flooded with messages many with the same subject line. Gmail made it easy to manage. Links, not attachments, also ensure that you are always working with the latest version of a file. No more searching for the email with the attachment and then making sure it is the latest version with up to date changes. Offline Gmail makes all your email and attachments available offline. Great for airplanes or travel.

What has been your biggest challenge so far at Google?

Google moves at a very fast pace. My first day on the job they asked me to speak at a Cloud Computing conference in NYC three days later. I’m not sure what happened to the scheduled speaker, but I plunged in and learned as much as possible about the specifics of Google’s Cloud strategy…and went on stage with cloud execs from Amazon and Microsoft.

Because things move at such a fast pace there isn’t much time to meet everyone, study product details and strategies, etc. You just pick up what you need to know as you go along.

Can you explain your role at Google and how specifically it involves startups and how you can help a startup?

The Developer Advocate role at Google is to help developers build applications using Google tools and platforms. We provide support, make introductions, fix problems, and promote some of their solutions as examples of how to do things. Just yesterday I was at Hummer Winblad, a Venture Capital firm in San Francisco. All the partners were at the meeting, and they invited 5 of their portfolio companies to attend. We gave them an in-depth review of what we do, how we can help, and a high level view of where we are going on product strategy. The startups told us where they had issues or questions, which is very valuable to us because it tells us where we need to do a better job.

Nexus One:

It is my understanding that Google released this phone on their own can we anticipate more Google phones?

The Android platform will show up in lots of devices, not just mobile phones. We are in the very early stages of a long product life cycle. There will be lots of innovation on a very fast pace. That innovation will come from many partners building hardware on Android.

What advantages does the Nexus One offer over the iPhone?

There are lots of product reviews by all the major tech publications that cover this in detail, so I won’t go into it here. The big difference is the business model. With the Nexus One you choose the phone first and then you have a choice of carriers, so it flips the traditional model on its head.

How pivotal do you see the mobile phone apps for startup success?

I think mobile is the future of computing, so I think there are LOTS of opportunities for startups in this area.  Your cell phone will become your primary computer, communicator, camera, and entertainment device, all in one. The exciting new applications are running in the browser, with application code and data in the cloud, and the cell phone as a major platform.  I think in the near future there will be docking stations everywhere with a screen and a keyboard. You simply pull out your phone, plug it into the docking station, and instantly all your applications and data are available to you. You can connect to the Internet via your cell phone service, WiFi hotspot, or wired connection.  Your phone will have enough storage so you can decide which applications and data are stored on your phone, and which will be in the cloud. Replication will work seamlessly in the background so that you always have a backup copy of your data in the cloud.

Where can developers interested on building on the Android platform find information?

There are lots of Android Developer forums online. One is at  http://groups.google.com/group/android-developers that has over 25,000 members who are pretty active. Android is pretty open so you can usually find everything you need by doing a Google search :-)

Is their anything else that we should know concerning the Nexus One?

This is just the beginning. There will be more carriers, more partners, more apps, and more innovation. Mobile is the future of computing and we are just getting started.

General Startup advice and Google Ventures:

Is their one area that you think startups fail to recognize as being very important? I.e. distribution, business model, forward thinking into apps or is it all about execution?

Building a successful startup is much harder than it looks. There are so many surprises and so many things that can go wrong. We only read about the successful cases, but there is a lot to be learned from the struggles and failure cases. Business models matter. It is a good idea to have more than one revenue stream. Basing a company on just advertising revenue is a risky proposition.

What type of role does Google Ventures play?  Is the primarily role an acquisition fund and VC level investment or does Ventures get involved at the Angel level?

Google Ventures is like a traditional VC firm in the way it makes investment decisions. Google Ventures is not the acquisition arm for Google. That is handled by the product groups and corporate development.

Google Ventures will make small seed stage investments and larger, later stage investments. Interestingly, Google Ventures is not limited to software or web based companies. They will look at life sciences, bio-tech, clean tech, energy, medical, etc. They really want to work with technology companies pushing the envelope in every industry.

What is the best way to contact Google Ventures?

There is a web site  http://www.google.com/ventures/ which is about to be updated in a major way. So, check back in a month or so.

What is the best method to contact you?

You can contact me, DonDodge [at] Google.com. I get a lot of email, so try to be short and concise. Tell me exactly what you do, what you are looking for, and how I can help.

I would like to personally thank Mr. Dodge for taking the time to respond at great lengths to my many questions.

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