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Google Blew It August 12, 2017

Posted by Peter Varhol in Technology and Culture, Uncategorized.
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I don’t think that statement surprises anyone.  Google had the opportunity to make a definitive statement about the technology industry, competence, inclusion, ability, and teamwork, and instead blew it as only a big, bureaucratic company could.  Here is why I think so.

First, Google enabled and apparently supported a culture in which views colored by politics are freely promoted.  That was simply stupid.  No one wins at the politics game (and mostly everyone loses).  We believe what we believe.  If we are thoughtful human beings with a growth mindset, our beliefs are likely to change, but over a period of years, not overnight.

Second, Google let the debate be framed as a liberal versus conservative one.  It is most emphatically not.  I hate those labels.  I am sure I have significant elements of each in my psyche, along with perhaps a touch of libertarianism.  To throw about such labels is insulting and ludicrous, and Google as a company and a culture enabled it.

Okay, then what is it, you may ask.  It is about mutual respect, across jobs, roles, product lines, and level of responsibility.  It is working with the person, regardless of gender, race, age, orientation, or whatever.  You don’t know their circumstances, you may not even know what they have been assigned to do.  Your goal is to achieve a robust and fruitful working relationship.  If you can’t, at least some of that may well be on you.

The fact that you work together at Google gives you more in common with each other than almost anyone else in the world.  There are so many shared values there that have nothing to do with political beliefs, reflexive or well-considered.  Share those common goals; all else can be discussed and bridged.  It’s only where you work, after all.

You may think poorly of a colleague.  God knows I have in the past, whether it be for perceived competence, poor work habits, skimpy hours, or seeming uninspired output (to be fair, over the years a few of my colleagues may have thought something similar about me).  They are there for a reason.  Someone thought they had business value.  Let’s expend a little more effort trying to find it.  Please.

So what would I have done, if I were Sundar Pichai?  Um, first, how about removing politics from the situation?  Get politics out of office discussions in general, and out of this topic in particular.  All too often, doctrinaire people (on both sides of the aisle) simply assume that everyone thinks their ideas are inevitably right.  Try listening more and assuming less.  If you can’t, Sundar, it is time to move aside and let an adult take over.

Second, Google needs everyone to understand what it stands for.  And I hope it does not stand for liberal or conservative.  I hope it wants everyone to grow, professionally, emotionally, and in their mindsets.  We can have an honest exchange of ideas without everyone going ballistic.

Get a grip, folks!  There is not a war on, despite Google’s ham-handed attempts to make it one.  We have more in common than we are different, and let’s work on that for a while.

I can’t fix Google’s monumental screw-up.  But I really hope I can move the dial ever so slightly toward respect and rational discourse.


An Open Letter to Nicholas Carr January 26, 2016

Posted by Peter Varhol in Uncategorized.
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Mr. Carr – I understand that you are not able to respond to everything, or anything, but I hope you will be able to take this in the vein in which it is offered.

Last year, I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  I was at a reasonably good hospital (Lahey Medical Center in Burlington, MA), and the head of surgery there strongly recommended a Whipple Procedure, which involves taking out about a third of my insides.  It was the only way I would live out the year.

You are right.  I should have listened to this professional advice, and taken the surgery.  It would have laid me up for several months, and given me a lower quality of life for a couple of decades until I died.

But I turned to Doctor Google, for a number of hours.  I can’t say I understood all of it, but I determined that it was premature to talk about surgery, and declined.  The diagnosis was wrong.  Today, I am a distance runner, and continually challenge myself physically.  I am in the best shape of my life.

You believe you are so right in your convictions.  You raise reasonable points.  I can respect that.  But reality is more nuanced than you give it credit for.  Without Doctor Google, I would have had the Whipple, and it would have been the wrong decision.  It would have been very detrimental for the rest of my life.  I realize that there is bad and contradictory information on the Internet.  We, as intelligent and reasonable people, can use it to help make our own decisions.  In another era (yes, an era I was also in; I am older than you), I would have followed the doctors’ (plural) advice, and have unnecessary and debilitating surgery.  Please let us use the Internet as it was intended, to inform and educate.  Of course, the decisions are ours.

Does Google make us stupid? No it does not.

That is all.


I Am Not Dead October 7, 2012

Posted by Peter Varhol in Technology and Culture.
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That’s a strange thing to say, but the question has been coming up this summer and into the fall.  The reason is Google.  I occasionally google myself (it is a verb now, right?) to see where I might appear, and since about June the Peter Varhol obituary has been trending toward the top of the results.  The fact that it seems to be that of an 83-year old person in Minnesota (I am about 30 years younger, and live in New Hampshire).

All of this is thanks to Google, which lists sites that claim there are a total of six people by my name in the US, including my father, who died in 1994 (he’s the one in Pennsylvania, FYI).  Beyond the other deceased fellow, there seem to be identically named men in Texas (owner of a septic installation company; read into that what you will), Connecticut, and Illinois.  Other than my father, I have never met any of them, and have no idea whether or not we are related.

And, by the way, I am not on Facebook, and will not be on Facebook, lest a future employer demand the password to my (nonexistent) Facebook account.  There is a Peter Varhol in Brno, Czech Republic, who is originally from Bratislava, Slovakia (where at least one side of my family can be definitively traced to).  He seems to be prominent on Facebook.  He may actually be a distant relative; there is a resemblance, but I can’t tell if it’s family, or ethnic.  If you search for Peter Varhol, Google will return Facebook profiles, none of which are mine.

The ability to find out things about me that are, well, not about me has implications to my life and all of our lives.  Even if we don’t have a common name (I don’t think I do), we may find that employers or potential employers look for us on the Internet, and think that we are somebody we are not.  If we are interviewing for a job, we may not even get a chance to say that we aren’t the person their search returned.

But it’s broader than that.  Those people in our lives may think we are someone that we are not, based on a Google (or Bing, or Yahoo) search.  That may affect how people around us think of us, and how they interact with us in the future.  A potential new friend may find someone with the same name who has a criminal complaint for stalking, for example.

I don’t know if there is a solution to this, and I don’t know how often it is an issue.  In general I believe that more information is better than less.  But I have heard from old friends or colleagues asking if I were in fact dead (if I don’t answer, does that lead to the default conclusions?), and I would prefer not to receive such queries.