Technical CEO’s must be CEO’s in addition to being Technical

July 13, 2010 Lou Franco

Paul Adams, a Google UX Researcher, is writing a book called Social Circles, which you can get a good preview of in this presentation.

Don’t be put off by the 216 slides – it’s a quick read. The key insight is that the Facebook model of a single group of friends doesn’t match real-life social circles that have mutually exclusive friends and that you might want to communicate to each differently.

The document itself is a call to action to Google to recognize that the web is undergoing fundamental change, and in some ways is reminiscent of Bill Gates’s memo about the Internet in 1995.

Paul Adams:

The social web is not a fad, and it’s not going away. It’s not an add-on to the web as we know it today. It’s a fundamental change, a re-architecture, and in hindsight its evolution is obvious.

[…] Make no mistake about this. Everyone in this room will need to learn how to design social features on websites.

[…] When we use search engines today, it’s a pretty solitary experience. We get millions of web pages in our results, yet we don’t see any other people.

Bill Gates:

Browsing the Web, you find almost no Microsoft file formats. After 10 hours of browsing, I had not seen a single Word .DOC, AVI file, Windows .EXE (other than content viewers), or other Microsoft file format.

[…] One scary possibility being discussed by Internet fans is whether they should get together and create something far less expensive than a PC which is powerful enough for Web browsing.

[…] The Internet is a tidal wave. It changes the rules. It is an incredible opportunity as well as incredible challenge.

The Gates memo is reminder of how a technical CEO is critical in leading a software company. It’s full of detailed instructions that only a former programmer would be able to understand.

Eric Schmidt, Sergey Brin and Larry Page are all very technical themselves, and yet this call to arms comes from someone else in the organization. I’m sure Paul Adams is very skilled, but not knowing the internal politics of Google, it’s not clear if his call to action will cause change. It’s not enough to be technical, you also must lead. In the “Next Steps” section of the Gates memo, he says:

I want every product plan to try and go overboard on Internet features. One element that will be crucial is coordinating our various activities. The challenge/opportunity of the Internet is a key reason behind the recent organization.

Google needs a similar message about social features coming from Schmidt.

About the Author

Lou Franco

Lou is the former Vice President of Product Development at Atalasoft.

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