Book Review: I’m Feeling Lucky: The Confessions of Google Employee Number 59

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by Douglas Edwards c.2011, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

The meeting is at 4.

You’re giving a presentation.

It’s not done.

But you know what to do: you go online, type a few words into a rectangular box, hit “enter” and — ta da! — find what you need and save your own bacon. Oh, and you also find the annual migratory patterns of Tibetan yaks, a voice-cast list of the Monchhichis, and a funnel cake recipe like Grandma used to make.

Searching online is addictive, fun, and simple, but somebody had to make it so. Read “I’m Feeling Lucky” by Douglas Edwards and see what goes on behind the screens at an iconic online-based corporation.

Doug Edwards desperately wanted to work for a tech company. It was 1999, he’d been watching the tech revolution as it bloomed, and the dot-com bubble was inflating. The possibilities seemed unlimited.

He noticed Google, but he initially didn’t think it would amount to much. Search engines operated with massive, powerful equipment then, and Google — based on an algorithm devised in 1996 by two Stanford students — operated on efficiency and frugality. Edwards was hearing good things, though, and he longed to be a Googler.

He finally got an interview, and with 33 days left of the Twentieth Century, he became Google employee number 59.

At first, the job was fun and exciting, though a bit surreal. Constant free snacks were around for the taking and two masseuses worked on-site. One never knew when a street hockey game might break out. The dress code was “…wear clothes.”

But Edwards felt awkward. He had no job description, there was no set budget, and no organizational chart. Ideas had to go through Google’s creators and were denied or allowed with no explanation. Engineers were the core of the company and Edwards, a “word guy”, had to fight for every step (and misstep) he made.

Eventually, every workday was 13 hours long. Middle-of-the-night emails and phone calls were common. Edwards’ kids grew up knowing that Daddy was tethered to his computer. So when his “last and strongest ally” left the company, Edwards knew, without looking it up online, that his days were numbered…

Though he says repeatedly that he’s a “word guy” and has a degree in English, author Douglas Edwards speaks tech fluently. This book is filled with stories of racks and codes, clicks and POPs, cages and cables. Edwards often pours forth with an alphabet soup of acronyms on one hand, then deftly switches to marketing talk on the other.

And I was mostly tired of it by page 80.

But I kept reading because Edwards is a funny writer. Readers who aren’t so well-versed in technology and its terms will still laugh at his inner-sanctum stories because he’s a keen observer of the absurd and is just as willing to poke a little fun at himself. Think: “The Office,” Silicon Valley-style.

Overall, “I’m Feeling Lucky” is worth a look-see, but only if you’re techno-savvy or you’re willing to muddle through the tech-talk. For you, then, it’s a book to look up.

Book reviewer Terri Schlichenmeyer has been reading since she was 3 and never goes anywhere without a book. Her columns run every other week in the Business Journal.