Google’s Whittaker On How to Annoy Your Past Employer

Google plus logoEx-Googler James Whittaker posted a longish explanation of why he left the company on his blog, lamenting what he sees as Google’s change from a tech company to an advertising business. Google, he says, has lost its way, forsaking innovation for a focus on catching up with Facebook. And that means…

The days of old Google hiring smart people and empowering them to invent the future was gone. The new Google knew beyond doubt what the future should look like. Employees had gotten it wrong and corporate intervention would set it right again.

It makes Google sound kind of IBM-ish. Perhaps because the company is in its mid-teens, Google’s voice is changing.  Whatever’s going on, the whole Internet is trying to read between Whittaker’s lines.

Since Whittaker — now a development manager at Microsoft — is one of those people who apparently can move from one brand name to another, he’s always going to be the guy who bashes his former employer to the whole Web. (The fact he did it on a blog hosted by his current employer is a whole different, tacky kettle of fish.)

It’s never good form to bad mouth a previous employer when you’re talking to a new one, and it’s even worse to do it so publicly. That’s why I keep telling people not only to watch what they say in interviews, but to be careful about their blog posts, tweets and Facebook comments. Aside from the fact this kind of thing annoys your old colleagues, it gives future employers pause. Sour grapes don’t play well, and it doesn’t matter whether you left a company on good terms.

Whittaker’s post is getting Google the kind of attention it doesn’t want, especially in terms of recruitment. With so many tech companies chasing top-tier people, he’s launched a wave of speculation that the search giant’s not the cool, engineer-friendly place it once was. That’s going to make the job of many managers there more difficult, and that’s something they’re not likely to forget.

11 Responses to “Google’s Whittaker On How to Annoy Your Past Employer”

  1. Mark,

    Google isn’t the company it was 7 years ago when they were churning out innovations in search, maps, and e-mail at a breakneck pace. Now, they’re languishing and trying to keep their market capitalization and in defense-mode against Facebook. There’s no new news in that blog post and nothing any of us already didn’t know–he just reaffirmed things. I don’t see how his first-hand experience and opinion doesn’t help you or I as consumers or potential job seekers, and I as a job seeker don’t really care about how it makes management’s lives harder. After all, security through obscurity is no security at all.

    And, as a side note, I would say IBM is worth their market capitalization if you keep an eye on their annual income statement and its growth. Warren Buffett just bought 10 billion into that cap, so that says a lot. They’re a fantastic business, and in no way are they receding in innovation–go read Slashdot about recent advancements in quantum computing that they’ve developed.


    • Hi John —

      I don’t disagree with you about Google. I just was pointing out that by posting a bash on his former employer, Whittaker may have made life mor difficult for himself next time he looks for work.



      • Jim Hazen


        Don’t worry about Dr. Whittaker as his reputation is intact, especially in the area of Software Testing. Any company would be happy to hire this guy. And he has bashed on Microsoft in the past too. He used to use MS products for demonstrations of how to break software, and MS hired him partly because of it.
        This is his second round at MS.

        I agree that this is a ‘small world’ in the software industry, and people do not forget. But because of his clout he is able to voice an opinion, even if some people don’t like it, and get away with it.

        He brings up a point that plagues a lot of people when they leave a company. That the place has changed from what it was when they started there. It happens to all of us, part of the nature of the job.

        If this post causes some people in Google to wake up and realize that they are loosing a key component of their culture then it serves a purpose. it is natural for companies to change and grow up, but when it is a core piece of the culture then they run the risk of damaging themselves.

  2. Sometimes employers need to be outed……this gentleman did something incredibly brave that could, no doubt, impact him negatively. I would bet that he seriously considered the consequences prior to issuing that blog post, but we need more people to speak up like that. While MS may not like the fact that he publicly bashed his former employer, and therefore may do the same to MS, I doubt he would make made it up the ranks to a Development Manager if he were the average, angry ex-employee.

    “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.”

    — Robert F. Kennedy

  3. Though it may be true that bashing an old employer publicly may be a bad decision professionally, there is also another way to view the situation. For those employees left behind, their voices so often do not ring as loud from the inside as those who have left and are free to exercise their freedom of speech. If such a post does make a hiring manager’s life more difficult, AND it is true that the company has strayed from its initial core values of human resource development, then the public criticism could be a blessing.

    Companies of ALL shapes and sizes are notorious for keeping their dirty laundry in-house. The problem is that the laundry never really gets cleaned, it’s just kept hidden from the public while the worker bees inside have to deal with the stench (why do managers always seem so oblivious to the house that’s burning around them).

    Taking your old company to the mat can indeed be a risky move, but it can also be just the spark the organization needs to initiate change.

  4. Google will NEVER take us down. We are teaming with Microsoft and Skype to take on Google Plus.

    The 3 of us will take you on. At the same time, we will foster privacy, and we wont keep old search histories of theirs, on our servers. like you do.

    Microsoft supports facebook 100%.

  5. The old saw of “don’t say anything negative about a prior employer” is just that — old and worn out. There is a difference between complaining (and no one wants to hire a complainer) and honestly pointing out areas that need improving. The most obvious interview question in the world is “why did you leave job X?” Following tired advice, most interviewees would answer something non-informative (and dishonest) like “I needed a new challenge.” — or the like. When I hear that answer, my thought is “yea, right.” There is absolute nothing wrong with stating the facts — the culture of the company changed, the job limited my creative and innovative instincts, I was micromanaged, or (to borrow from Goldman Sachs’ Gregg Smith) my company was doing things that were unethical if not illegal.

    Nothing changes in the world, country, or corporation unless we speak the truth.

  6. William Tomsheck

    I’m so thankful I don’t have to partake in the brutal corporate world anymore. No more rat races, rats themselves are totally cool animals, I wasn’t referring to the literal species rats. No more chasing the almighty dollars to buy the almightiness, coolest cars, video equipment, no more partaking of the slavery from the Internet/software beast. I wish all of you the happiest race.

  7. The general tone of the comments here reflect mine – this is not a whining bash but an honest, informed opinion. Also, Whittaker didn’t make it personal but addressed the issue on the whole, having worked there through several changes and missteps.

    The prior posts mentioning the unspoken opinions of former colleagues and the noticeable lack recent progress by Google are both spot on.

    I agree in general with your advice about keeping negative comments offline, but Whittaker’s post doesn’t fit your advice.

    My two cents.