When I went to work for Silicon Graphics (SGI) in 1991, it was a fairly obscure company. I was proud to work there because it was full of smart people making good products and having fun doing it.
But in 1993, Jurassic Park was released, and the role of SGI’s computers in animating the dinosaurs made the company famous. In the meantime, we were building some excellent computer and finding new markets for them faster than we could grow the company. Then two very bad things happened.
1) One of the things that had made the company successful was that it hired only the best and brightest. When it looked like company financial growth might be limited by staffing, the company made a huge announcement that it would 1000 (maybe 20% of the current size of the company) new people in a matter of months. (I may have the numbers wrong here, but point is, they committed to massive hiring in a short time.) This led to a reduction in quality of the employees of SGI.
2) They bought supercomputer company Cray Research in 1996. Even though SGI was on track to take more and more business from Cray each year, they bought Cray. Cray had been around since 1972 and was headquartered in Eagan Minnesota (just outside Minneapolis). SGI was a cutting edge Silicon Valley company and Cray was a fairly slow-moving, process-burdened beast. Even though SGI bought Cray, Cray’s culture took over and killed the spirit of high-end server development at SGI.
So why am I telling you this? Because Google is reportedly about to buy a 5% stake in America Online AOL. As part of the deal, AOL will get preferential placement in Google listings and AOL’s logo will be displayed on the listings. This is counter to the way Google’s search engine has run in the past. Also, AOL is a big, 20-year-old company that has been part of Time-Warner since 2001. That’s a huge culture difference.
I remember the beginning of the end of the good times at Silicon Graphics, and it looks like Google might be heading that way. The management at SGI thought that they could do no wrong so they ruined a good thing. This Google move has that same feeling for me. Only time will tell whether that’s where Google is headed.